One of the vital essentials that go into making of a cricket pitch is clay. The ideal clay should bind soil and provide tensile strength to withstand pressures exerted by the repeated pounding of well-built fast bowlers’ steel spikes-fitted feet. Importantly it should not crumble when 6’4-tall fast bowlers hurl a hard cricket ball at paces in excess of 90 miles per hour.
This constant pounding of feet by bowlers and batsmen and the hundreds of deliveries hurled into the pitch at great pace by bowlers with powerful shoulders is normal fare on a cricket pitch. Curators search far and wide for the ideal river-bed clay that can withstand such torturous treatment day-in and day-out. The ideal clay (depending on variable climatic conditions, including heat, rate of water evaporation, weather, etc) should not crumble when subjected to such harsh treatment.
That said, the “pitch-fixing” video released by a television channel prior to the Pune ODI between India and New Zealand came across as a bit of a joke. It showed some guy of indeterminate height and weight wearing rubber-soled shoes gingerly tapping his foot a couple of times on the pitch. This was supposed to be done 48 hours before start of the match. The video claimed this act was heinous enough to constitute pitch-tampering!
Good luck to the channel if its editors believed that this meek tapping of the foot a couple of times could alter the state of the pitch and have a bearing on the match.
In the real cricketing world, things happen a little differently. A curator hands over the pitch to the umpires before the start of the match. Till then it is under his charge, and his large team of groundsmen not only walk all over the pitch, they could even run heavy one-ton pitch rollers on it.
They do these activities even minutes before the toss. Surely if the pitch can withstand the one-ton roller going back and forth repeatedly even before the start of an innings, it certainly can absorb the ginger foot tapping of a lightweight guy.
This apart, access to pitch is restricted to enable groundsmen to work on it unhindered. Of course in the past insane elements have threatened to dig up pitches, pour oil over them, etc in a bid to sabotage conduct of a match. Naturally, with millions of dollars riding on modern international matches, cricket boards are usually prudent enough to ensure adequate security to guard against access to pitch.
The pitch, therefore, is off-limit to all, except the host broadcasters, captains and match referee.
If the reporters, pretending to be bookies (whatever that means), made their way to the unguarded pitch, it is not the curator’s fault. Instead the Maharashtra Cricket Association secretary should have suspended himself. It is his job to ensure that proper security was in place to prevent this sort of transgression before a major international match. It is his security, and by extension, himself who have failed in their duty, not the curator.
He should also explain how the sting operatives were allowed to bring video-shooting equipment into the stadium. The rights belong to the host broadcaster. Anybody else shooting the match or events associated with it for public viewing are doing it illegally.
The video’s claim about pitch information is also a bit of a joke. In practice many media personnel speak to curators and other well-informed local cricketers on the state of the pitch before the start of any major match. They even quote them at times.
Pandurang Salgaoncar, a former fast bowler, is known to be passionate about making pitches pace-friendly. Some time back, he had refused to oblige a request by a spinner for a spin-friendly pitch and his authority was overridden by an important official.
Salgaoncar would be expected to state that his pitch will support pace and bounce and be a high scoring one. Any curator proud of his work would say that his pitch would be true and support high scoring. But no curator, for all the money in the world, can deliver this sort of pitch on demand in two days' time. It takes weeks together to prepare a true, hard, bouncy track.
On the other hand, underprepared pitches are just that — left untouched for days together.
Yes, Indian pitches have been doctored in the past. One spinner was said to go around well in advance with measuring tapes, mark his purported spot and request curators to leave that bit of the pitch untended. But that’s another matter.
Perhaps the television channel was not after only TRPs. Perhaps it has other footage that we haven’t seen that might well damn Salgaoncar. Only an elaborate inquiry can bring out all details. Until then acting harshly against him on the basis of the limp video displayed is patently unfair.