At the rain-affected drawn Eden Test earlier this week, pacers from both India and Sri Lanka had a fruitful outing on that grassy surface, which had a notable amount of pace, bounce and carry till the very last season of the game. It was only thanks to that pitch, despite losing 551 minutes to weather in the match, we came tentatively close to a result.
However, the contest in Kolkata has all of a sudden, spiced up this low-profile India-Sri Lanka series. Now the caravan has moved to the orange city, Nagpur and there is some sort anticipation regarding the match amongst the fans and the media.
Now, here lies the billion-dollar question. At the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) ground at Jamtha, can we have another lively surface, which will provide a balance between bat and ball in the second Test, which starts on next Friday?
Well, having been present at the ground zero, I can tell you, it is highly unlikely that the surface here will provide the kind of assistance to the pace bowlers, which the Eden track did. From a distance, it looked brownish and less than 48 hours before the start of the Test match the groundsmen were seen watering the surface.
According to an insider, the pitch is likely to be a “typical” Indian wicket, which means the first two days will be best for batting and Day 3 onwards it will start to break. Thus, the spinners are likely to be effective here, which is good news for someone like Rangana Herath or for India’s spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who bowled just handful of overs in the previous match.
The VCA, however, has a history of having pitch related controversies. Back in 2004, there was a storm over a green wicket for a Test match at the old ground in Nagpur, in which Australia beat India comfortably. It is being reported that then Indian captain Sourav Ganguly unofficially opted out of the game as a protest for not being provided with the home advantage. In fact, in that match, the wicket was more in favour of the Australians and they eventually ended up winning the Test match.
Recently, in 2015, the pitch here once again made the headlines. A rank turner was produced for the South Africa Test and the match got over within three days, with the result in favour of the home team. From the first session of Day 1, the ball was turning square on that occasion. Even ICC rated the wicket as ‘poor’ and officially warned the association.
Amid all these controversies, at the start of this home season, the associated had decided to le-laid the surface at the start of this season. Following that India played a One-Day International (ODI) here last month and significant change in character was seen in the behaviour of the pitch. Now, it will be a challenge for the VCA and the local curator Pravin Hinganikar to pull off the Sri Lanka Test match on a wicket, which doesn’t attract any sort of criticism.
So, they want to play safe here with a traditional Indian wicket.
Meanwhile, the BCCI has also sent an observer, the Central Zone member of BCCI’s ground and pitch committee, Tapas Chatterjee, to look after the preparation for the 22-yard. Furthermore, following the sting operation of the Pune curator, the board has given a strict instruction for the curator and the groundsmen regarding not to have any pitch talk with the media.
In the recent Ranji trophy matches here, batting teams scored heavily in the first innings and spin came into play in the second innings. On such a track, the Sri Lankan think-tank can contemplate the idea of playing left-arm Chinaman Lakshan Sandakan in place of pacer Lahiru Gamage, who looked below average in Kolkata.
India too will look for a replacement of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who has opted out of the match to attend his marriage. Here, either of Ishant Sharma or Kuldeep Yadav will come into the equation. At this point in time, Ishant seems to have his noses ahead, considering the fact that reverse swing is expected to come into play here.