The India and New Zealand ODI series is delicately poised at two matches apiece, and as the two teams head to Visakhapatnam for the series decider, they would be having sleepless nights over how the pitch at the ACA-VDCA stadium might behave.
These apprehensions are not unfounded, especially considering that a Ranji Trophy match between Assam and Rajasthan two weeks ago ended in three days, with Assam being skittled out for 69 in their second innings. As many as five of their batsmen were out without scoring, while only three reached double figures.
Wickets fell like ninepins and Assam could survive only 20.2 overs in their second innings, losing the low-scoring match by an innings and eight runs at the end. Rajasthan pacers Pankaj Singh and AV Chaudhary finished with rich hauls. But more than the 'ineptness' of the Assam batsmen and the 'viciousness' of the Rajasthan bowlers, the talk centred around whether the pitch was fit for play. The variable bounce reportedly made spending time on the wicket extremely hazardous for the batsmen. Assam coach, former India spinner, Sunil Joshi minced no words and tweeted,
Neutral venue @ Vizag Ranji game,17wkts fallen today 11 lbw's from morning 9:30am to 1:45pm match over,Ind ODI venue here???????
— Sunil Joshi (@SunilJoshi_Spin) October 15, 2016
Following this match, there were reports that the ground was in danger of losing the India-New Zealand ODI altogether. However, BCCI curator K Sriram, who was sent to inspect the pitches at the stadium, gave the green signal for the ODI, as well as the second Test between India and England next month, according to an Indian Express report.
The BCCI curator said that the final ODI between India and New Zealand would be played on pitch number five, which had an even mix of red soil and clay. "I am happy with what I saw. It will be a good surface," he said.
Furthermore, local curator K Nagamalliah's words promising a batting beauty on Saturday would have also reassured the teams, letting the players focus solely on their game.
"The surface is hard. We have got adequate time to prepare the wicket, and I'm expecting at least 280-300 on the board," Nagamalliah was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
The curator acknowledged that the pitches were a bit under-prepared, but blamed incessant rains for it. One of the pitches had been completely relaid and some patchwork was done on the others, Nagamalliah said, adding that 21 days of non-stop rains had hardly given them a chance to prepare the wicket for the first match of the Ranji season, and the relaid wicket was not used at all.
An Andhra Cricket Association (ACA) official noted that the pitch used for the first Ranji match at the ground (Odisha vs Vidarbha) was "pretty decent", but it was not heavy-rolled before the second match, which made the surface soft and uneven with low bounce, the Indian Express reported.
However, a different pitch would be used for the India-England Test from 17 November, according to Nagamalliah. This would be the first time the ground would host a Test match, but as of now, all eyes are on Saturday's ODI.
Pitches in India have been at the centre of controversies before. We have had matches at Indore (in 1997) and Delhi (2009) being called off midway owing to dangerous pitch conditions. One hopes Visakhapatnam doesn't end up with such a dubious distinction.