MUMBAI: The first pink-ball day-night Test match at the Eden Gardens, turned out to be a big hit. According to Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), India’s television audience measuring body, around 43 million people saw India’s inaugural day-night Test that ended on the third day with an emphatic victory against Bangladesh. India’s new ball operators, Ishant Sharma (9 for 78) and Umesh Yadav (8 for 82), were too hot to handle for the visitor from across the border.
It was a one-sided match, but at least Virat Kohli – reluctant to play the pink-ball Test against the West Indies in the previous home series and also in the away series against Australia in 2018-19, made a beginning, thanks to the firm decision taken by BCCI President Sourav Ganguly. A goodly crowd showed up at Kolkata’s famous venue, but the television audience surpassed all expectations.
In a week’s time India (February 24 to 28) would gird up its loins for its second home pink-ball Test against the Joe Root led England team at the brand new Sardar Patel Stadium at Motera. The city is the home of the BCCI Secretary Jay Shah and the former President of the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA), Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah.
According to the people who have been associated with the game in the city and State, everything is moving with clocklike precision and with all care taken to conduct the match with the COVID-19 driven standard operating procedures in place.
Like it happened in the second Test match at Chennai, the spectators will be part of the pink-ball Test match. Starved of international cricket for eight years and more, the followers of the game in and around the city have picked up all tickets sold online.
But most importantly the cricketing world and the two teams would watch with curiosity and anxiety as to how the pitch will behave. The centre plot at the altogether reconstructed stadium has 11 pitches with six pitches having an eight-inch top layer of red soil and five pitches having an eight-inch top layer of black soil. “That’s the usual construction profile of a pitch. Below that is the drainage system,’’ said former India player Dhiraj Parsana who was curator at Motera for 36 years from 1982 to 2018.
The knock-out phase of the BCCI’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 tournament was recently played at the ICC approved venue. The most important piece of land (the 22 yard pitch) at the venue is being prepared by Ashish Bhowmick, Chief of the BCCI Elite Panel of Curators. Bhowmick has a reputation of preparing sporting pitches.
The practice pitches — five with red soil base and four with black soil base — will help the two teams prepare. The teams which will arrive in Ahmedabad on Thursday, have been allotted a month’s schedule for practice starting from Friday, February 19.
It’s the home team’s prerogative to choose the pitch and it is hoped that Kohli will choose the red soil based pitch in order to afford help to its frontline seamers in Jasprit Bumrah, who will play his first home Test and Ishant Sharma and also off-spinner Ravinchandran Ashwin and left-arm spinner Axar Patel, who has turned out for Gujarat for many years.
Ashwin has always relished extracting bounce and turn of the Wankhede Stadium pitch which has a red soil base. He has taken 30 wickets in four Test matches at the Wankhede at 21.93 apiece. He touched the 30 wicket mark in Chennai after his eight wicket haul in the second Test against England. All with the red ball though. Australian Nathan Lyon, who has played all eight pink ball Test matches at home, leads the off-spinner’s group with 29 wickets at 27.41. Ashwin is fourth in the list with five wickets at 18.00.
India and England began to practice with the pink-ball at Chennai itself with reports that the two rested seamers James Anderson and Jasprit Bumrah bowling with the SG Pink ball. According to Tamil Nadu captain Dinesh Karthik, there can be heavy dewfall after 6.30 P M, and hence the pink-ball may not do much mischief after it had lost its shine. Anyway the pink-ball Test is a different ball game altogether!