SPORT

Pitches draw flak

AMRITSAR, FEB. 26. This has been a Duleep Trophy devoid of intense competition for many reasons.

If the quality of play has been mediocre, the fault lies with the state of playing surfaces, the choice of venues, the shabby accommodation provided to the teams at Gurgaon and the attitude of the cricketers, most being disinclined to strain themselves. The players feel they have nothing at stake even though the National selectors, in full strength barring Kirti Azad, disagree on this count.

The players have protested against the nature of pitches prepared for such an important tournament. "I've not seen such lifeless pitches in a long, long time,'' said a livid Narendra Hirwani, 20 seasons old in first-class cricket.

He flung the ball on the pitch hard and yet failed to extract any bounce. "See what I mean,'' he asked with a smile, throwing a glance at the organisers at the Devi Lal Stadium in Gurgaon.

"Who is going to benefit from this kind of cricket,'' asked West skipper Sairaj Bahutule, having suffered the same fate as Hirwani. Former Bombay seamer Abdul Ismail, now West Zone team manager, condemned the pitch too, but then wondered if things would improve.

In his time, the pitches were left uncovered and the contest was obviously livelier than what it is today.

"Pitch making is an art and much more work has to go into it. We are making every effort to improve the state of affairs. We are trying to import soil to prepare bouncy tracks,'' claimed Venkat Sunderam, head of the BCCI's committee in charge of pitches.

Against this background, cricket has been mediocre in this edition of the Duleep Trophy. The England `A' team failed to defend a cushion of 501 in the last match against South Zone when Y. Venugopala Rao, S. Badrinath and S. Sriram mauled the opposition on a pitch that remained docile right through. The result left England `A' in a hopeless situation as far as its progress in the tournament was concerned.

As it gears up to take on East Zone here, England `A' dreams of a remote chance to win — an innings victory can carry it past South's tally of four points. East, with two points, will be under pressure to pull off a coup.

The pitch at the Gandhi Stadium here is expected to be no different from the rest. For England `A', the task will be tougher, with Simon Jones returning to join the England team for the tour of the West Indies. His replacement, Steve Kirby, joined the team in Delhi.

For East's left-arm spinner Utpal Chatterjee, the contest offers an opportunity to show the younger generation that commitment means. The presence of Chatterjee and Hirwani lends competitive flavour to this otherwise mediocre tournament.

The fact that these two have proved indispensable for their teams speaks for the `wealth' of talent available.

The teams (from):

East Zone: Devang Gandhi (Capt.), Shiv Sundar Das, Rohan Gavaskar, Arindam Das, Deep Dasgupta, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Utpal Chatterjee, Sourashish Lahiri, Shib Sankar Pal, Mahender Singh Dhoni, Rajeev Kumar, Debashis Mohanty, Vasant Saravanan and C. Sachdeva.

England `A': James Tredwell (Capt.), Kadeer Ali, Simon Francis, Michael Lumb, Sajid Mahmood, Graham Napier, Scott Newman, Kevin Pietersen, Mathew Prior, Bilal Shafayat, Ed Smith, Graham Wagg, Shaftab Khalid and Steve Kirby.

Umpires: Vijay Chopra and I. Sivaram; Match Referee: Raju Bhat.