Delhi Debacle Adds To Apprehension
The abandonment of the final ODI after just 23.3 overs between India and Sri Lanka stands to be far more than a mixture of disgrace and embarrassment for Indian cricket. Largely acknowledged to be the powerhouse of the modern game, the latest debacle will call into question India’s efficiency as a global sporting host and pile enormous pressure on those involved in delivering the 2011 World Cup. At what is emerging as a critical juncture for cricket’s future, the next World Cup will be subject to particular scrutiny.
The tedious cricket offered by India and Sri Lanka during the recent test series was criticised for the lack of balance between bat and ball. Masses of runs were scored in conditions favouring batsmen, whilst the bowlers, Murali, Harbhajan and Mendis amongst them, toiled with little success. Where once a bad pitch was by definition, one which favoured the bowler, wickets around the world have recently been criticised for failing to produce a result. Ricky Ponting recently expressed his dissatisfaction in ‘not a lot of results being achieved’, boldly citing the subcontinent contests. In a hugely successful year for the Indian administrators, and ‘Team India’ finishing on top of the ICC rankings, the quality of pitches has become an issue, on both ends of the wicket spectrum. The latest pitch calamity has come at the worst possible time, at the end of the series, which will be remebered not for the cricket played, but the dangerous wicket at Delhi.
The capital’s foremost cricket venue is located next to the crumbling ruins of the citadel built by Emperor Feroz Shah Tughlaq. Where once the fortress of ‘Ferozabad’ sat with a grand presence, it has been reduced to a shell since it was abandoned in 1490. The cricket stadium has fortunately in recent times been subject to modernization and renovation, to cater to the discerning Delhi cricket followers. The main stand sits in an imposing manner, much like the original Kotla in its middle-age heyday, looming over play whilst provided excellent views of play. Whilst not the best looking stadium, famous for Anil Kumble’s historic ten-wicket sweep of Pakistan in 1999 it has been dragged into the modern cricket era. Yet its wicket has disappointed.
Re-laid in April, the Kotla’s square has provided low scores. The slow pace and low bounce has resulted in high dissatisfaction from players and spectators alike. During Octobers Champions League, Delhi provided four scores of under 100, and was the scene of a remarkable Delhi Daredevils victory, as they defended 114, bowling the highly competant Cape Cobras, out for 84. The number of clean-bowled dismissals was abnormally high as the wicket was abnormally bare.
During the Champions League the wicket at the Feroz Shah Kotla was dry, compacted and deficient of grass. Grass seed, imported from the United States had failed to ‘take’, leaving little to bind the top of the surface together. What appeared to be flattened soil played as such.
For Sunday’s wicket, reports suggested that grass had emerged, yet only in localised areas. Areas of grass coverage were dotted on the wicket, leaving other parts bare. Depending on where the ball pitched, would offer very different reactions off the pitch, resulting in uneven bounce. Crucially, such uneven coverage was on a length, a nightmare for batsmen and ultimately, despite offering lively cricket, dangerous. The balance between bat and ball was as uneven as the covering of grass, and not for the skill of those on the field.
The enquiry has already begun. Amid a great deal of finger pointing, the BCCI has dissolved its ‘ground and pitches committee’, the Delhi District Cricket Association has had resignations tendered from senior committee members and the curator. The report of the match referee has been submitted, and the BCCI will be given 14 days to submit a report on the fiasco. Only then will a decision be taken on the future of Delhi as international ground. The ICC ‘Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process’ warn a suspension for the venue’s international status, calling into question Delhi’s participation in hosting games for the 2011 World Cup. No doubt a question mark will emerge over the quality of wickets ahead of the tournament, but also over India’s ability as a sporting host.
Chief Minister Sheila Dixit recently admitted that she had been reduced to ‘keep praying that we won’t let the country down’ in preparing the construction deadlines at the forthcoming 2010 Commonwealth Games venues, also to be held in Delhi. Confessing to feeling ‘not comfortable’ and ‘nervous’, her honesty is refreshing, but equally concerning. As an opportunity to showcase the ability of the nation, the latest setbacks, including a fire at a site under construction and regular criticism of Delhi’s infrastructure calls the capability of India and the hosting of the event into question. Every minute detail of such world sporting events will be examined, a smooth operation is necessary with the world watching. With fears over a number of issues, imcluding pollution and security, and Dixit’s apprehension, the event is under ever-intensifying scrutiny. It will be the reputation of the organising committee and of the capital that will be tarnished, and that of India if the Games are not delivered with success and effeciency.
The Feroz Shah Kotla, recently revamped and modernised, and boasting incredible history, deserves to host cricket during the 2011 cricket World Cup on the subcontinent. However, not at the cost of poor cricket due to unsatisfactory conditions, therein damaging further the reputation of Delhi cricket and that of India. The West Indies, in 2007 provided an example of how not to host a World Cup; the pressure is on India to deliver a success, not just for the nation’s greater good, but crickets also. The cricketing world is watching intently, and the latest mishap at Delhi’s Kotla has only intensified this pressure.
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