The last time Australia won a Test series in India in 2004-05, pitch curator Kishore Pradhan was at the centre of a controversy for preparing a surface that was unhelpful for spinners in Nagpur for the third Test. The test was won by Australia, which took an unassailable 2-0 lead with one match to go in the four-Test series.
Australian pacers took 16 of the 20 Indian wickets on that pitch. India spinner Harbhajan Singh and skipper Sourav Ganguly sat out of the match.
In the ongoing Test series, however, all three surfaces have been spin-friendly, with the one at Indore’s Holkar Stadium copping three demerit points from the match referee.
Pradhan, now in his 80s, says he could decide the nature of the pitch on his own as he wasn’t being paid by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) then. “We curators were not paid in those times. We never got a salary. Now, what’s happening is that all the curators are getting paid for their services. So, they come under pressure,” Pradhan told Patriot. “If you take any kind of financial assistance from your association, you have to bow to them.”
Pradhan served in an honorary post. He was part of the executive committee before being made the chairman of Central Zone’s pitches and grounds committee, Central Zone. “It was an honorary job. I was not paid a single rupee. Why should I have listened to anyone?” he asserted.
In fact, even when BCCI started paying curators, especially the zonal chairman, Pradhan wasn’t aware of it.
“Even as the zonal committee chairman, I did not get paid the monthly consultation fee, as it was called then, of Rs 20,000 for two-and-a-half years. It was only when [the ex-BCCI president and Vidarbha cricket stalwart] Shashank Manohar brought this to my attention, that I claimed it. But I was never going to budge,” added Pradhan, who had retired from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in 1999.
“Now, they are getting a lot of money so they are under pressure. They fear being sacked.”
Besides a hefty salary by the state association, often running up to a lakh, curators empanelled with the BCCI also get a hefty daily allowance even for touring domestic games. The five zonal heads get a monthly salary from the BCCI of well over a lakh. While the second rung curators get an amount of up to a lakh per month. Due to this dependence, Pradhan says, “the pressure is immense”.
He says the India team management didn’t need to prepare such wickets as they have the wherewithal to win the Test even on non-spin-friendly tracks.
“The kind of cricketers we have, we defeated Australia in Australia. We took a 2-1 lead in England before finishing the series at 2-2. In South Africa too, we won a Test. The team is capable of winning on other pitches,” he said further.
The Nagpur-based curator said that a Test match should last five days.
“For the first two to two-and-a-half days, it should help pace and then on the fourth and fifth day, it should help the spinners. On the fifth day, there should be a result,” he added.
“In this case, this was probably done to qualify for the World Test Championship (WTC) final. [But] Three demerit points have been given as a result of it,” he said further.
He also felt that preparing such pitches is bad for the spectators who spend money to buy tickets.
“People who buy tickets, take seasonal tickets [for the entire game]. If matches are finishing in two-three days, their money is being wasted. After the introduction of T20 cricket, few want to watch a five-day Test. The entire focus is on T20 because you get pleasure and enjoyment in three hours. Test cricket will get finished,” he says further.
All three Tests in this series have finished within three days with the last one in Indore finishing in just about the first hour of the third day.
The crowd could not witness the weekend days in Indore despite the interest. In the second Test in Delhi, the game didn’t last the entire Sunday even though it began on Friday. And in the first Test, the game couldn’t go till Sunday.