Ahead of the much awaited World Cup semi-final clash between India and New Zealand today, reports have surfaced claiming that the hosts switched the pitch of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai — where the match is set to be played — without permission from the International Cricket Council (ICC).
India has maintained an undefeated streak in the tournament so far, which commenced on Oct 5. Across nine league matches, the side were dominant, at times securing one-sided victories, particularly against Sri Lanka, England and Australia.
According to a Daily Mail report published on Tuesday, the originally designated pitch for the tournament’s first semi-final at Wankhede Stadium was supposed to be the fresh surface (pitch seven) — not been used in the tournament so far.
However, the pitch has now reportedly been replaced with pitch six, a strip that has already hosted two matches (England vs South Africa and India vs Sri Lanka), the report claimed.
It stated that Andy Atkinson, the ICC’s pitch consultant responsible for overseeing preparations at global tournaments to ensure fair playing surfaces, was informed that there was an unspecified issue with pitch seven.
The report also referenced a circulated WhatsApp message on Tuesday, which allegedly confirmed the switching pitched. It claimed that more than 50 BCCI and ICC officials received the message.
The report further carried concerns that the pitch for the final at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday (Nov 19), featuring India or New Zealand against the winner of the Australia or South Africa match in Kolkata on Thursday, could also be unilaterally altered.
“It has also transpired that while the tournament’s opening game, between England and New Zealand, had taken place on the pre-agreed pitch no 6, none of the next three matches conformed to the schedule,” it stated.
It said that Atkinson also emailed his bosses, saying the pitch changes had been made “without proper notice or forewarning” and also raising doubts about the neutrality of the pitch for the final.
“As a result of these actions, one must speculate if this will be the first ever ICC CWC [World Cup] final to have a pitch which has been specifically chosen and prepared to their stipulation at the request of the team management and/or the hierarchy of the home nation board,” Atkinson wrote in an email published by the outlet.
“Or will it be selected or prepared without favouritism for either of the sides competing in the match in the usual manner, and unquestionably because it is the usual pitch for the occasion?” the ICC official said in the email.
Meanwhile, the Indian Express reported that Indian officials made a specific request to BCCI curators to reduce the grass covering on the playing surface, deciding on their preference after the win over the Netherlands in Bengaluru.
The newspaper cited a Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) official as saying that the directive was conveyed to prepare a slow track before the home team arrived in Mumbai.
“It won’t be a turner, but the team had requested a slow pitch. That was the primary reason for trimming the grass,” the official clarified.
Separately, Fox Sports quoted SEN radio host Gerard Whateley as expressing shock over the last-minute pitch changes.
“I think it’s outrageous. This is an international tournament.”
Prepare the pitches however you like for your home series, every nation has the choice to do that if they want to, the host said. “But this is an international tournament, it hasn’t quite felt that way.
“It’s felt like a tournament in India for India and for India to win. This is evidently going on,” Whateley claimed.
It is pertinent to mention here that there were talks about the possibility of a “India-friendly” pitch emerging during the T20 World Cup semi-final against West Indies at Wankhede Stadium in 2016. However, this did not evolve into a major concern, particularly following India’s loss in the match.