For a brief while on Wednesday, 15 deliveries to be precise, it looked as if New Zealand would make a certain Pandurang Salgaoncar’s ill-advised, if private, prediction of a 330-plus score in the second one-day international in Pune come true. However, once Bhuvneshwar Kumar found the edge of Martin Guptill’s bat and had him caught behind, that melted away into nothingness.
The track was a far cry from the belter that Salgaoncar spoke of in the Pitch-for-Sale ‘sting’ that was aired by a TV channel and made available on YouTube as well. If anything, the pitch was sluggish and challenged the batsmen to adopt a Test-match approach instead of attempting uninhibited stroke-play. That there were just eight sixes and 35 fours is adequate proof of it.
Typically, the size of the MCA Stadium is such that batsmen can feel encouraged to play the big shots, especially if the deck is flat. One recalls watching the likes of Virender Sehwag, Aaron Finch and Kevin Pietersen strike sixes freely in the IPL and one was looking for the characteristic big hits at the venue. They were, to say the least, at a premium in the India-New Zealand match as the track was not so flat, after all.
With Bhuvneshwar and Jasprit Bumrah scalping the top three cheaply, it never looked as if the Kiwis would get anywhere remotely close to scoring 337. To their credit, the teams were apparently blissfully unaware of the curator’s prediction with the batsmen playing the ball on merit and not according to the grand wishes of the bragging, and now sidelined, Salgaoncar.
If anything, the game offered a great stinging lesson for those who believe that such accurate predictions–337 runs, not a run more or a run less–are possible in any game of cricket. It told such fans that despite the bad apples that have led to some rot, cricket must still be watched as a simple contest between bat and ball rather than with suspicious vision.
Martin Guptill (11 off 9 deliveries) and Tim Southee (25 not out, 22 deliveries) were the only batsmen who passed the strike rate of 112.33 needed for a team to get to 337. With India chasing 230 for a win, only skipper Virat Kohli (29) scored at a-run-a-ball pace. Evidently, those backing the 337-run dream were in for a rude shock. They had been listening to a vain boast.
There was a greater lesson that perhaps even seasoned curators will not know how a track would behave on a given day. After all, besides the curators’ efforts over several weeks in preparing the pitch for a match, weather conditions play a key role as well. And there have been times where the cricket ball does not always do the bidding of the bowlers, fast or slow.
Talking of lessons, Salgaoncar appeared to have been doling out some of his own–on how to make a pitch and a corollary on what could possibly affect the nature of the pitch in a matter of five minutes, from removing some top soil to spilling a bottle of water accidentally on the strip to twisting spiked or studded boots to suitably scuff the pitch.
Indeed, we did not see much evidence of that on Wednesday. Clearly, ICC Match Referee Chris Broad–known to be a no-nonsense person–and the umpires Rod Tucker and C Shamshuddin saw no evidence of any of these things either before or during the game. It leads us to wonder if Salgaoncar was merely talking about how pitches could be damaged and how they had to be protected.
It will also be interesting to see if the reporters “disguised as bookies”– they didn’t seem to know the difference between bookmakers and punters–will hand over unedited footage to investigators who can then interpolate the curator’s predictions with the events of the match to see if Salgaoncar was bragging or revealing some hidden powers to make the track to suit a couple of bowlers.
Until that happens, Salgaoncar will have to live with twin albatrosses around his neck–of sharing information with “bookmakers” who seem to have breached security in getting to the ground without accreditation, and of not knowing how the track he prepared would roll out. He may eventually find that the 337-run brag is the tougher one to deal with.