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Taposh Chatterjee - The dynamics of pitch preparation

One of the best curators in India, Taposh Chatterjee, gives us a lowdown on pitch making

Pitch making is an art. It comes with experience. The traditional methods of pitch preparations have been thrown out of the window with advancement in technology. The BCCI has taken steps to make curators across India aware of the changing scenario and we are reaching out to educate more and more ground personnel.

The most important factor in pitch-making is the soil. To build a strong structure you need a robust base. The same principle applies in pitch-making. The curator must choose the right kind of soil to deliver a good cricket pitch.

There are three main types of clay; Smectite, Illite and Kalonite. In India, we largely use Illite and Kalonite. All three have different shrinking and swelling properties. There must be mechanical tests in the laboratory before choosing the right clay as it has sand, silt, fine sand, coarse and sodium.

Once you use the right soil, you begin the process of constructing a wicket. The old system of preparing a wicket is now redundant. So much has changed over the years. Now the process is undertaken in three steps, which are the three layers of the pitch.

Earlier, it was believed that a cricket pitch must have 24 inches of depth of soil. It is no more in vogue. You now need to have only 16 inches of depth. The bottom layer is coarse sand, second is loamy soil and the top surface is more soil.

Wetting the pitch

The first step towards preparing a pitch is wetting. It has to be wet four inches below the surface in an even manner. If one does this step correctly then everything else falls in line. The grass surface also must be uniform.

The usual feeling is that grass is left to help the fast bowlers. While one and half inches of surface on the top of the pitch is dried due to natural heat and air in the atmosphere, it is only the grass underneath that dries the bottom layer. Since we do not see this, we don’t talk about it. To get optimum bounce on the pitch, we must dry the surface completely.

Using rollers

There was a belief among the curators that if the playing area has not dried, use the heavy roller. What it did was suck the life out of the surface. At the start, we use the lightest of the rollers to get the smoothness of the surface. It is followed by the use of the second lightest roller to get tightness in the soil. The heavy roller is used finally, but one must ensure that it is not overused. The diameter of roller and speed of rolling is also important to get good bounce off the surface.

Changing formats

The use of the rollers changes according to the format of the game. If it is a T20 game, it has to be a batting track as run scoring is generally the priority. For a one-day game, there has to be about 30-40% help for the bowlers too.

As a curator, your experience comes into play when you prepare a Test wicket. An ideal pitch is the one where on the first day you get some moisture. When the moisture dries out, it becomes easy for batting and, the second day is generally the best for batting. There should be gradual wear and tear on the pitch for spinners to come into play on the third day. On the fourth day one should see more deterioration with spinners getting more from the surface. On the fifth day we must expect a result and that would be a fine wicket in my opinion.
(As told to Moulin Parikh)

Moulin Parikh

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