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It was as if even the suggestion that India’s cricket hierarchy might feel the need to doctor pitches had done the most complete cricket side in the game an injustice.
Player for player, India have every piece of the puzzle covered from batting depth to pace and spin bowling, and the whole gamut was on display in Wednesday’s high-scoring semi-final win over New Zealand. It was India’s 10th straight World Cup victory.
Whether the Board of Control for Cricket in India played the bully with the International Cricket Council – again – to have Wednesday night’s pitch in Mumbai changed to a more spin-friendly strip or not, suspicions will always linger.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the pitch, but it’s played fine,” former England captain Nasser Hussain said in commentary. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
Before Wednesday’s match, The Daily Mail had turned the spotlight on the hosts by reporting a leaked email that highlighted direct interference ahead of Wednesday night’s match.
The email, from the International Cricket Council’s independent pitch consultant Andy Atkinson, who oversees preparation at global tournaments, raised doubts about the pitch selection process.
India celebrate Mohammed Shami’s seven-wicket heroics in the World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand.Credit: AP
“As a result of these actions, one must speculate if this will be the first-ever ICC CWC [World Cup] final to have a pitch which has been specifically chosen and prepared to their stipulation at the request of the team management and/or the hierarchy of the home nation board,” Atkinson wrote in the email.
“Or will it be selected or prepared without favouritism for either of the sides competing in the match in the usual manner, and unquestionably because it is the usual pitch for the occasion?”
The ICC subsequently confirmed to this masthead that the pitch had been changed by the local curator and the Indian team, adding it was not unusual for that to happen in such a long tournament.
“This change was made on the recommendation of the venue curator in conjunction with our host. The ICC independent pitch consultant was apprised of the change and has no reason to believe the pitch won’t play well,” an ICC spokesperson said.
Fans went wild for India both inside and outside Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.Credit: AP
And that’s how it turned out – spinners had no impact on the match, as India scored almost 400 before New Zealand lost just two wickets for more than 200 at one stage in their run chase thanks to a Daryl Mitchell century before paceman Mohammed Shami did the damage again.
There are always suspicions about pitches in India because the BCCI has form, although the Australians have no concerns about the possibility of a doctored pitch for the final in Ahmedabad should they make it past South Africa in Thursday night’s semi-final.
Earlier this year India so doctored spinning wickets in the Test series against Australia. The home side went 2-0 up before Australia won the third Test by nine wickets. Each of the first three Tests lasted little more than two days.
A flat pitch was rolled out for the last Test in Ahmedabad to ensure a draw that gave India a 2-1 series victory and a place in the biennial World Test Championship. India have played in the first two WTCs, against New Zealand and Australia, and lost them both convincingly. They were played at neutral venues in England, Southampton’s Rose Bowl and The Oval.
But Wednesday’s display showed India don’t need doctored pitches as much as they need more confidence on a greater variety of surfaces. It’s not as if they haven’t done it before. They beat Australia in Brisbane with a patched-up side early in 2021 to claim a second successive series win on these shores, which ensured a place in the inaugural WTC final.
Besides, there are other issues with the BCCI thatare arguably more problematic than how pitches are prepared in India.
Whether it’s the negative effect it has on Test cricket by taking a greater share of ICC revenue away from struggling Test nations, the impact on the ever-diminishing international window of extending the Indian Premier League to 12 weeks, or its refusal to allow Indian players to compete in the T20 competitions of other countries while attracting the best international players into the IPL, the BCCI very much looks after its own interests rather than using its huge influence for the greater good of the game.
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