The BCCI has a history of raking up controversies regarding pitches © AFP

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The Jaipur pitch is at the centre of controversy after the Indian Premier League game between home side Rajasthan Royals and the Chennai Super Kings. Shane Warne, Rajasthan Royals captain, has expressed his displeasure at the last-minute change of the wicket. The BCCI has responded by saying that the teams do not have the choice in selecting pitches and that it is the decision of the curator. This has sparked off the debate regarding the prerogative of the home team in preparing wickets that suit them.

 

It is not clear whether the BCCI has issued this statement as a defense or it is its policy. Warne claims that in the last four years they have never been told which pitch to select or how a surface is to be prepared. If the BCCI is to be believed then a few questions arise: What is the advantage of playing at home if the pitch is prepared at the discretion of the curator without consulting the home team? If the home team does not have any control over the pitch, the single factor they can control on their ground, then where does the question of home advantage arise?

 

Taking away an age-old privilege away from the home team is bound to cause heartburns and one can be sure the last has not been heard on the issue.

 

My mind goes back to two Test matches India played in the last decade. The first one is the infamous Nagpur Test match during Australia’s tour to India in 2004. The wicket was greenish and the then captain of India, Sourav Ganguly, had expressed his displeasure about it. Nevertheless, the Test match was played on the same wicket and India lost a home series to Australia after a gap of 35 years as Australia sealed the series in conditions that made them feel at home.

 

When South Africa toured India in 2008, the second Test was played at Ahmedabad on a green surface. The South African pace battery boasted of the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini. On a surface to their liking, they mauled India by bowling them out for 76. In reply, the South African batsmen felt at home and put on 494 on the board on the back of AB de Villiers’ double century. India lost that match by an innings and 90 runs.

 

The puzzling question is: What is the use of being the home team if the wicket is being prepared for the visitors? When a team is the host it should have a say in the pitch preparations as this is what gives them the essence of being the home team. When India tours Australia or England, the curators there are not going to make a spinning wicket which favors the Indian spinners and one on which the batsmen feel at home. They would definitely prepare a pitch that suits their bowlers and the team in general so that they have the edge going into the match.

 

Equally disappointing is what happened after the two above-mentioned Test matches. In 2004, we witnessed a square turner at Mumbai and in 2008 it was a crumbling wicket at Kanpur. India prevailed in both contests, but then again why should the curators go to the other extreme?

 

There is something called consistency and preparing absolute turners after green tops doesn’t show it. I am not saying that the wickets should be predictable, but they shouldn’t be stark opposites of one another, especially in successive Test matches.

 

The home team should have the right to choose the type of wicket to be prepared as that is what gives them the essence of being the home team. If the BCCI believes that it is the curators’ choice, then Indian cricket fans should brace themselves up for their team suffering more humiliating defeats as it did at Nagpur in 2004 and at Ahmedabad in 2008 by not only surrendering the home advantage but actually preparing a track that is suited to the visitors.

 

The curators may feel a sense of achievement in preparing wickets like the ones at Ahmedabad and Nagpur, but at the end of the day the sport is not about their personal achievement but about the prerogative of the home team in achieving its objective.

 

The recent Jaipur pitch controversy and BCCI’s subsequent reaction are quite disturbing and it’s certainly not comforting for Team India.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)