Why India is under fire over pitch change controversy ahead of Cricket World Cup final

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A major controversy has erupted after the pitch for India’s semi-final cricket match against New Zealand in the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 was changed at the last minute, dubbed by one commentator as “outrageous”.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Indian team management were accused of getting the pitch at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium changed before the match, without taking the permission of the International Cricket Council (ICC). The ICC has come out in defence of the late switch and said such changes were “common”.

Strong remarks were made over accusations that the change favoured the Indian side. Indian commentator and former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar dismissed the accusations and said those making them were “morons” who he hoped would “just shut up”.

The first semi-final game of the 2023 World Cup at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium was initially scheduled to be played on a fresh wicket, but was changed to an adjacent pitch earlier used for England vs South Africa and India vs Sri Lanka group-stage games.

The change was done under the insistence of Indian head coach Rahul Dravid, reported Cricket news portal Cricbuzz.

Australian sports journalist Gerard Whateley described the request for the change as “outrageous”. Former England captain Michael Vaughan also said semi-finals should be played on fresh pitches.

“A World Cup semi should be played on a fresh pitch… It’s as simple as that,” he said on X.

The change of pitch was first reported by Daily Mail, which cited an email by the ICC’s independent pitch consultant Andy Atkinson, that said the changes were made “without proper notice or forewarning”.

But the ICC said the change was nothing new nor uncommon.

“Changes to planned pitch rotations are common towards the end of an event of this length, and have already happened a couple of times,” the ICC told Cricbuzz ahead of India’s 70-run win on Wednesday.

“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.”

There are no clauses in the ICC’s Playing Conditions for the current World Cup with respect to the selection of pitch strips. Both semi-finals at last year’s T20 World Cup in Australia were played on used surfaces, while the 2019 World Cup semi-finals in the UK were played on fresh tracks.

As per clause 6.3 of the Playing Conditions, the “Ground Authority shall be responsible for the selection and preparation of the pitch”. In this case, the authority is the Mumbai Cricket Association, whose curators worked closely with Atkinson, the ICC consultant.

The Indian management reportedly requested the curators to shave off most of the grass on the playing surface to create a slow track to benefit spinners.

Fast bowler Mohammed Shami had done the most damage to New Zealand in the semi-final after he finished with seven wickets for 57 and became the first man to take three five-wicket hauls in a single edition of the Cricket World Cup.

Shami also became the first Indian bowler to take a seven-wicket haul in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs). The seven-wicket haul also took the Indian pacer to the top of the wickets chart with 23, one ahead of Australian spinner Adam Zampa on 22.

“Prepare the pitches however you like for your home series, every nation has the choice to do that if they want to. But this is an international tournament, it hasn’t quite felt that way,” said Whateley, the sports journalist.

“It’s felt like a tournament in India for India and for India to win,” he said.

“Fresh pitch for ICC events a must. Not even a question, just should happen,” wrote former Australian player and coach Darren Lehmann on X.

Australian captain Pat Cummins said a slow pitch during his side's semi-final against South Africa in Kolkata would be “the same for both teams”.

Those on the Indian side also pointed out that the Wankhede stadium surface turned out to be friendly for batters too. India accumulated 397 runs and New Zealand still managed to make 327 runs after that.

“All those morons who were talking about the pitch being changed and that it would do the Indian bowlers a favour, I hope they will just shut up,” Indian cricketing legend Gavaskar said on Star Sports.

“Stop taking potshots at India just because it helps you get eyeballs. Nonsense.

“Even if the pitch was changed, it was there before the toss for both the teams. It wasn’t changed in the mid-innings. It wasn’t changed after the toss was done.

“The pitch was the same for both teams. You are a good enough team, you play on that pitch and you win. And India has done that. So stop talking about pitches.”

“Already they’re talking about the pitch in Ahmedabad [the venue for the final]. The second semi-final hasn’t even taken place, you’re talking about the pitch being changed in Ahmedabad. Nonsense,” he said.

The reported email by Atkinson, cited by Daily Mail, had said “one must speculate if this will be the first ever ICC CWC [cricket 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”.

The winner of the second semi-final between Australia and South Africa will take on India in the final match.

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