Pitch switched? India under fire for micromanaging ‘neutral’ World Cup pitches

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India have been accused of micromanaging pitch conditions for their World Cup campaign, including switching surfaces for Wednesday’s semi-final against New Zealand in Mumbai and Sunday’s final should Rohit Sharma’s team qualify.

Maintaining a recent pattern of seeking the ideal surfaces for their trio of elite spin bowlers Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s team management have reportedly changed the surface for tonight’s game to a slower, lower strip that will make life more difficult for New Zealand’s high-quality seam bowlers.

Steve Smith is bowled by Ravindra Jadeja in Chennai.Credit: Getty

While initially the match was to be played on the Wankhede Stadium’s pitch six, a fresh surface unused during the tournament to date, this has now been swapped for pitch seven, a strip already used for two matches.

An email from the International Cricket Council’s independent pitch consultant Andy Atkinson, who oversees preparation at global tournaments to ensure they provide an equitable playing surface, has raised doubts about the neutrality of the pitch for the final.

“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 an email published by The Daily Mail.

“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?”

On Monday in Mumbai, India’s coach Rahul Dravid, accompanied by other support staff, travelled straight from the airport to Wankhede Stadium for a long and animated discussion with the venue’s ground staff about the surface.

Having not won a World Cup in either white-ball format since 2011, also on home soil, India have been desperate to do so this time, and marched undefeated through the qualifying matches.

But the pitches they have played on have often appeared to be balanced well and truly in India’s favour, unlike the 2019 World Cup where England forged through to win despite the preparation of surfaces that offered more to seam and swing and thus blunted the batting strength of Eoin Morgan’s team.

Australian players for India’s opening game in Chennai saw similarities between that pitch and those prepared for the Test series in February and March, where India went 2-0 up on slow turners in Nagpur and Delhi before being spun out themselves in little more than two days on an even more extreme pitch in Indore.

At the time, India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour admitted that the team had felt pressure to qualify for the world Test championship final – where they were soundly beaten by Australia on a neutral surface at the Oval – and requested pitches to help them accordingly.

Rohit Sharma inspects the pitch at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai at a training session this week.Credit: Getty Images

“Since this ICC Test championship has started there’s just more pressure on you to win home games,” he said when asked whether neutral curators should be appointed for Test series. “We want to win games when we’re playing at home, but that’s a call the ICC need to take.”

Ironically, India’s campaign has been dominated by the high-quality work of their seam bowlers Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj, who have proven themselves repeatedly as capable in all conditions.

But this time a year ago, when India were beaten by England in a T20 World Cup semi-final in Adelaide, Dravid said it was a challenge for his players to learn how to play white-ball cricket on foreign shores given they were banned from playing for franchises outside the Indian Premier League.

“The ICC independent pitch consultant works with the host and venues on their proposed pitch allocations,” an ICC spokesperson said, “and this process is ongoing throughout an event of this length and nature.”

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