A general view of the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi © Getty Images
A general view of the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

The first Test of the upcoming series between India and West Indies will be played at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi starting on Sunday, November 6, 2001. And the Dilli Darbar seems to be playing host to a comedy of errors even before play has commenced. And the reason is, predictably enough, the infamous Kotla surface.

 

This time, it is excessive salt and limestone levels in the surface that’s giving sleepless nights to the authorities. Chetan Chauhan, Chairman of the Pitch Committee, apprehends the surface may not hold together and crumble. Some may say that is very much par for the course, considering it’s the Kotla. But the venue can ill afford to rub salt into its own wounds from two years ago.

 

In December 2009, an ODI between India and Sri Lanka at this venue had to be called off because the pitch was deemed unfit. The ICC then slapped a year-long ban on the venue. Prior to this fixture, the Kotla also hosted the inaugural Champions League Twenty20 and played a pivotal role in ensuring its failure. The sluggish surfaces made scoring difficult and the matches received a lukewarm response as a result.

 

The Kotla has since hosted a few World Cup ties and also a match between India and England in the recently concluded bilateral ODI series. There’s not much in these results to suggest anything’s changed. The larger question: Why does the venue continue to be an embarrassment in spite of being situated in the national capital?

 

Consider that 18 truckloads of soil were brought in from Hissar at the behest of Raj Kumar Sharma, the curator who was initially in charge of the pitches for this season. It is not clear if this was done with Chauhan’s blessings, who was then away in Australia. At any rate, upon his return to India, Chauhan had other ideas and decided the Hissar soil wouldn’t do. And so, as Day One of the Test approaches, the staff is not sure if the pitch will hold together while the Hissar soil is lying dumped within the premises. I reckon you may not have much trouble sneaking some away for yourself, should you so desire. This sequence of events pretty much epitomises the plight of the Kotla.

 

The Kotla was one of the first of the traditional Indian centres to be renovated. And it is also the only one that looks rather ugly post renovation. The stands at Chennai and Mumbai are quite beautiful, especially compared to what we were used to before. But the Kotla stands are an eyesore and redefine the concept of a makeover. I imagine crores of rupees would have gone down the drain in the course of the makeover. Likewise, even two years after the ignominious suspension, preparing a good pitch for cricket continues to be a struggle at Kotla.

 

The India-West Indies series is doomed from inception. Audiences are already fatigued by the overkill of cricket fixtures, if the record low turnout at Eden Gardens for the India-England match is any indication. India have also played West Indies away only a few months back, so the contest loses what relevance it might otherwise lay claim to.

 

The last thing we need now is a shabby Kotla affair, what with ICC in a trigger-happy mood when it comes to turning tracks. The two India-Pakistan Test fixtures played in recent times at this venue yielded tough encounters with India prevailing comfortably. A similar pitch is the need of the hour for an engrossing contest at Delhi come Sunday.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)