mHosting a Test match is a proud moment for any state association and producing a good Test wicket gives tremendous satisfaction to a curator. Preparing a pitch for the longest format is an art and also a challenge which every curator relishes.
With extensive cricket being played during the season, time used for pitch preparation has vastly changed. Earlier, it took about 20 days, but now a good pitch can be prepared within 10 days.
Usually the three centre wickets on the main square are shortlisted for a Test match. The one with even grass cover is zeroed in and work on it starts about a week before the match. Once a strip is shortlisted, it is barricaded with a 10 foot by 80 foot rope.
The length of the grass is then measured and it should not be more than 8mm. The pitch is then checked for undulation and it is an ongoing process leading up to the match.
To begin with, the pitch is watered. It may seem simple, but watering is not done directly through a hosepipe. It is very important that watering takes place in an even manner and which is why we use the shower pipe, so that water is sprinkled uniformly.
If the surface is too soft, percolation of water takes place quickly. A screwdriver of about 6mm and with a diameter of 3-4 mm is used to measure the depth. Precaution must be taken that water does not percolate more than four inches.
If too much water percolates then one cannot prepare a good pitch. If the surface underneath is damp, the bowlers do not get the desired bounce and right density needs to be achieved over a period of four days.
Once the pitch is watered, we make use of the light roller weighing 250-300 kg and roll it diagonally for about 20 minutes in the morning.
The pitch is then watered again using the shower method to make sure the water intake and surface level is regular. It also ensures that there is no shifting of soil and sand underneath the surface which might have resulted due to rolling.
Once the pitch is watered, it is left to dry to see how much water remains on the top of the surface. Once that happens, a light roller is once again used in a diagonal-cross fashion and the pitch is watered again. This is the routine which is followed in the first half of the day. For the second half, the pitch is left uncovered to ensure there is no dampness underneath.
However, afternoon heat results in formation of hairline cracks on the pitch. It is important that the surface is bound together and this can be achieved by making use of the one-ton roller.
The roller that is put to use in mornings is to bind 2mm of the top surface while the one in evening is to bind the surface underneath. The same process is repeated for three straight days to get good rebound energy.
On the fourth day, the eight-inch grass that was left earlier is cut to 6mm. In the afternoon, two more mm are chopped off to bring it to four, which is the perfect height to produce a good result-oriented surface.
It is always advisable to have some idea about the surface. If the ground has not played host to any age-group or multi-day games earlier, we make sure there is some cricket played to check the base compaction of the surface.
While the pitch is almost ready to be used, the groundsmen need to see to it that the top surface is not excessively dry and that grass is evenly spread.
The other factors that one needs to keep in mind while preparing a pitch is sunlight, temperature and time of the match. The curator has to observe weather patterns and accordingly make his calculations. If the match is in November, it is generally cooler while a match in March would be a lot drier. In winter, you generally leave the pitch to dry for two days. Doing the same in April would result into big cracks on the surface due to extreme heat.
(As told to Moulin Parikh)