When Keith McAuliff, CEO of New Zealand Sports Turf Institute, came to visit the Tribhuvan University Cricket Ground a couple of years ago, he asked, “Where’s your pitch?” Incidentally, he was standing on it.
Naturally, it is not that he did not know the difference between the pitch and the outfield. Just that the pitch hardly looked any different from the outfield making McAuliff, who was used to seeing green top on cricket pitches, unable to find it out.
Even as Nepal boasted of a cricket ground where international level matches have been played, the players have, time and again, complained of the pitches’ behaviour. “The pitches we play on does not have enough bounce,” most of the Nepali batsmen said this while explaining their failures outside the country.
Roy Dias, coach of the Nepali team for the ACC Trophy earlier this year and the Nepali Under-19 team for the Youth World Cup, also blamed the local pitches for the batsmen’s failures abroad.
“Since our pitches are slow, the batsmen make the mistake of committing on front foot most of the time. The same technique does not help them on the pitches which have bounce,” he says.
However, when McAuliff’s compatriot, Ian McKendry, consultant on cricket ground development to New Zealand Sports Turf Institute visited Nepal as a part of Asian Cricket Council’s (ACC) inspection, he expressed satisfaction over the ground condition.
“The grounds, especially the University ground, is good. But Nepal still has way to go as far as the pitches are concerned,” said McKendry after visiting Birgunj and Pokhara.
The experts say that the pitches of the TU ground were susceptible to low bounce and cracks even after little exposure due to the layering in the soil, exaggerating the spin and turn on the ball. Fortunately, the pitches on the ground, all five of them, have been re-laid. Komal Pandey, the in-charge of pitches in Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), says that the pitches now are in better condition than earlier.
“We have replaced the old pitches with new ones. We had to dig out three inches of the top soil from the pitch and replace it with three-inch block,” says Pandey. “A lot of weeding was also done on the ground to make it less slippery and even.”
According to the people who have watched matches being played at the ground after installation of the new pitches the bounce has improved to a great extent. Pandey says that the ball is now coming onto the bat more regularly.
“It’s become faster than before and unlike earlier when batsmen used to come on to the front foot and drive a short-pitched ball, they are more cautious now,” he said.
Even McKendry, who was in-charge of the team that prepared wickets at the Christchurch, the venue where Nepali Colts beat Pakistan at the Youth World Cup, says that the amount of grass on the pitch has to be increased.
“Increasing grass on the top will assist fast bowlers,” he says. He is supposed to prepare a report on the condition of grounds for the ACC. He said that in his report, he will encourage ACC for extra funding so that the grounds from different region can be improved ‘for long term sustainable development of cricket’.
McKendry also said that the ground at Tribhuvan University now ‘is good enough for international fixtures’ but only for the limited overs matches. According to him, an ideal pitch should be hard on top assisting fast bowlers on the day one of the match, help the batsmen on day two and three with ball nicely coming onto the bat, and help the spinners from day three onwards, with consistent bounce throughout the match. But that is for the longer version of the game.