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S. DINAKAR
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CRICKET Here's what an expert has to say about preparing a pitch with appropriate bounce and wear and tear that challenges the players

M ost wickets in Australia and South Africa encourage all aspects of the game. On view is cricket that challenges the protagonists in a manner that is fair. Can India produce wickets with consistent bounce and natural wear and tear?

P. R. Viswanathan, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)'s zonal curator for South Zone, says this is possible. The man who holds a Masters in Botany, however, adds the right process needs to be followed.

He lays emphasis on the employment of clay. “Using the right quantum of clay is the basis for preparing a sporting track,” he points out. Clay holds moisture, enables the pitch to bind.

The 67-year-old Viswanathan reveals, “Clay has a high level of organic and mineral content. Importantly, clay absorbs water, swells and then develops deep cracks on drying during preparation. This helps in the growth of live grass.”

Grass, not of the brown, dead variety, is an essential element of a sporting pitch since it allows the ball to grip on pitching. This encourages the sphere to seam around.

During preparation, the four inches of clay at the top are wet and dried to make the surface hard. The remaining four inches below hold moisture for about one-and-a-half days, enabling the grass to be alive.

The weight of the rollers is gradually increased from 250 kg to a tonne and rolling is done, both, in a straight line and diagonally. However, rolling firms up only the top one-and-a-half inches of clay. In fact, the remaining 2.5 inches are hardened only by the natural drying of the wicket.

“The moisture from the lower layer of clay is removed by the pumping of moisture from the grass. Ideally, a surface should have eight inches, in thickness, of clay from the top. The soil profile is fundamental to preparing the right wicket. Under the clay should be four inches of fine sand with ten per cent of clay and four inches of rock sand,” says Viswanathan.

The moisture content on such a pitch will encourage the pacemen till the end of the first session on the second day. The surface will then assist the batsmen before offering some assistance to the spinners from the final session of the third day. From the fourth day evening, it is likely to become a rank turner.

The three key players, the pacemen, the spinners and the batsmen have an opportunity during different phases of the game. Rightly, the process of the deterioration of the track is a gradual one.

The progressive drying of the pitch is a critical element here. But then, if the surface has more than eight inches of clay at the top, it will not be able to dry out.

Mr. Viswanathan has a scientific explanation for this. “Even if the root of the grass is about the prescribed eight inches in length, the pitch will retain moisture below in a surface with a nine to ten inch clay block. The wicket will not become dry as the match continues and will not encourage the spinners on day four and five,” he says.

Mr. Viswanathan cites the pitch that hosted the India-New Zealand Test in Hyderabad this season as an example. “The pitch had over ten inches of clay. Although it had bounce, it did not offer turn to the spinners on the last two days.”

As he points out, the components of the pitch, the watering and the rolling play a crucial role in preparing a sporting track.

“All the tracks in Australia and South Africa have a strong quantum of clay. We can do it in India as well, the black cotton clay is ideal. But we must have it in the right proportion.”

The red soil top, used by several curators in the country, can cause the pitch to become powdery rather too quickly, Mr. Viswanathan argues.

“We have to bring about a change in the mindset here,” he concludes.

S. DINAKAR

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