Length balls rear dangerously to crash into batsmen’s helmets, full deliveries jump to hit elbows, a length ball from an offspinner flies over the wicketkeeper’s head, and short balls roll through along the ground – welcome to Vijay Hazare Trophy action in Vadodara.
Vadodara’s Moti Bagh Stadium surface, on which Maharashtra were bowled out for 65 on Wednesday, has come in for special scrutiny. Even Punjab lost four wickets before they knocked off the target. At the same venue on Sunday, Odisha were shot out for 73, with deliveries scooting low or “jumping off patches from which the top surface came off”, according to an Odisha batsman.
Wasim Jaffer, Vidarbha’s senior batsman and Ranji Trophy’s highest run-getter, who has played around India for the last 25 years, expressed disappointment at the state of affairs.
“Imagine a length delivery awkwardly rising to hit the batsman on the helmet or ribs. Yusuf Pathan’s gentle offspin bounced from the rough and flew over the wicketkeeper’s head for four byes. Faiz Fazal was hit three times on his hands in his first ten deliveries on Wednesday. A full delivery from Yusuf hit Jitesh Sharma on his elbow as he played forward,” Jaffer counted off as he spoke to ESPNcricinfo. “If Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav or any fast bowler over 140 clicks were available and bowled on these surfaces, many batsmen would’ve been injured and their seasons would’ve possibly ended.
“I don’t think this is a good advertisement for your national championship, where players fear for their season ending due to poor pitches produced by the host association. Something has to be done about it. I didn’t tweet about the pitches in detail because it shouldn’t seem like a rant from a player whose team has lost. That isn’t the intention. I’m only concerned as a senior player, who is concerned about the health of the game below the national level.”
— Wasim Jaffer (@WasimJaffer14) October 15, 2019
Conditions were similarly poor at the Gujarat State Fertilizers and Corporation Ground (GSFC) last week, where Haryana were bowled out for 83, and deliveries “regularly hit batsmen on the shoulder and ribs”, a member of the Haryana team told us.
With a number of players and coaches bringing up the issue, the Baroda Cricket Association (BCA) took remedial measures, which subsequently produced two scores of above 200. But that doesn’t mask the fact that surfaces across the city – where the main venue (Reliance Stadium) wasn’t available because of the women’s ODI series between India and South Africa – have been consistently poor.
“There hasn’t been a top surface on any of the wickets we’ve played on,” Maharashtra coach Surendra Bhave told ESPNcricinfo. “It’s been crumbly and dry even with so much rain. The grass has also been straw colour. On red-soil surfaces, if there’s no green grass to hold it together, it’s mayhem. Balls jumping off a length and hitting the batsmen on their helmets or flying over the keeper’s head isn’t good advertisement for any form of cricket, let alone 50-over cricket.
“The challenges the association has faced is understandable given the amount of rain, but having said that, the surfaces could’ve been much better. We’re not saying you produce flat beds that give you 350 v 350, but at least there has to be some sort of a contest.”