Like an army officer showing off his barracks, Kishore Pradhan shows off the wicket at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur. He’s proud of it, and with good reason: it has a lush green outfield — and, crucially for India — a bare, brown pitch.
The First Test between India and England begins a week today and, barring a radical change of heart or a freak act of nature, the hosts will back their spinners all the way on this pitch.
Walk into the ground from any entrance and the eye is immediately attracted to the brown patch in the middle that’s being watered and rolled under the watchful eyes of Pradhan, the VCA’s chief curator.
The importance of the VCA pitch stems from the last Test played here, against Australia in October 2004. That was an infamous green top, allegedly prepared as a result of politics to ‘‘fix’’ then captain Sourav Ganguly. He pulled out of the Test at the last minute and Australia romped home to victory.
No such issues now.
Pradhan was busy supervising the hand-mowers, the two rollers, the sprinklers and other equipment that had helped him and his groundsmen remove all grass from the top of the wicket.
For good measure, the groundsmen have been asked to work on the pitch with a scarifier, a thin-bladed mower that cuts grass to the minimum and loosens the soil. If anymore grass (the little dry blades that are difficult to sight) is removed, it will only be pulled out along with the soil.
Stripped of all cover, and with the afternoon temperature around 36 degrees and expected to rise, there is no chance of any moisture on the pitch.
So it looks like Andrew Flintoff’s ‘‘the odd ball could skid’ and the ‘‘odd ball could swing’’ theories will have to take a back seat at least till England get over with Nagpur.
For now, they will have to look forward to winning the toss, batting first, and having a balanced attack that will allow captain Michael Vaughan to chose among the slower ones too.
‘‘There will be bounce,’ says Pradhan, trying to insert a key in the middle of the pitch. Constant watering, rolling and even the sun have made the pitch so hard that his statement hardly seems surprising. It is certain, though, that with all the grass plucked and the dryness giving way to dust, the wicket will begin to gradually fall apart in favour of turn, quite likely after the first two days of play.
With Flintoff, Harmisson, Hoggard and Jones in play England may still manage to hold the advantage on the wicket for the first three or four sessions, as long as it assists bounce and pace. ‘‘It will definitely spin after a certain number of days (read: two)’’, says a VCA official.
The association is denying that captain Rahul Dravid and coach Greg Chappell have called yet to give instructions about the wicket, or make their preferences known. But sources close to this newspaper are already talking about the high-level calls coming in to find out how the pitch-preparation is going on.
They needn’t worry. This pitch is in the brown of health.