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Dhiraj Parsana – The guide to preparing a Test wicket

BCCI West Zone chief curator tells us what goes into preparing a Test pitch

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)

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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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