Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium has been a venue that has seen truckloads of runs this 2023 World Cup. South Africa pummelled 399 and 382, India bludgeoned 357, Afghanistan 291 and Australia 29. But Wednesday’s contest, the semifinal between India and New Zealand, is likely to break free of the high-scoring pattern on the insistence of the Indian team. As per a report in The Indian Express, the team management had asked for a slowish surface for the 1st semis, believing it has suited them better throughout the tournament.
While India have played most of their league matches on high-scoring decks, the ones in Lucknow against England, Chennai against Australia and Kolkata against South Africa provided them a different challenge. While batting wasn’t the easiest, India still managed to chase down 200 versus the Aussies, defend 229 against England and bowl the Proteas out for 83 at the respective venues.
The report also mentioned that the request to shave off the grass was made by the management right after their final league game against The Netherlands on Sunday. “It won’t be a turner but the team had asked for a slow pitch. It was the main reason we shaved off the grass,” a source was quoted as saying.
It is perfectly within the rules for India to suggest tweaks to the pitch as they are the home team. Additionally, chasing under the lights at the Wankhede has been a stretch – evident from the record that three out of the four World Cup games in Mumbai have been won by the team batting first. And the one that didn’t was only possible due to Glenn Maxwell’s miraculous innings against Afghanistan.
Immediately upon landing in Mumbai, India head coach Rahul Dravid had a good long look at the pitch on which the game will be played. Local curators from the BCCI have established an organising group to manage pitches nationwide for the World Cup. Additionally, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has deployed its own experts to oversee venues for each game.
Did India switch pitches for the semi-final?
Ahead of the much-anticipated knockout game, reports in the British and Australian media have accused the Indian team to changing pitches for the New Zealand semifinal. Their developments state that the team management have changed the pitch without the consultation of the ICC, and that the first semifinal will now be played on a used surface – Pitch 6 – than the originally scheduled fresh one – Pitch 7, on which two matches have already been played. The news also claim that this ‘micromanagement’ of neutral World Cup pitches will continue in Ahmedabad should India reach the final.
The Daily Mail carried an e-mail from Andy Atkinson, ICC’s independent pitch consultant, which reads, “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.
“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?”
As per the ICC’s World Cup Playing Conditions, the ‘ground authority,’ in this instance the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), is tasked with the selection and preparation of the pitch for each match with Atkinson working in collaboration. Notably, there is no ICC mandate specifying that knockout fixtures must be played on fresh pitches. The Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process emphasises the expectation that venues assigned to host matches should present optimal pitch and outfield conditions for each game.