The lowest score at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium during the 2016 edition of Indian Premier League was 151. The highest score in Bangalore this season is 161.
Whatever happened to the venue which saw five out of six 200-plus team scores in 2016? What happened to the strip which was an accomplice to Chris Gayle’s 175 and Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Twenty20-record 263?
This season, barring the one game where Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine went after the bowling with utter disregard for playing conditions to chalk up a record score during the Power Play, no other batting unit has looked in control.
The up-and-down nature of the surface, coupled with an awkward tennis-ball bounce when the ball is dug in, makes it nearly impossible to hit through the line.
At least when the pacemen are hurrying in and the ball is new, the ball comes on decently enough, but as the innings progresses, the pitch is less and less of a stroke-maker’s ally. The ball barely comes off the surface and when the seamers start their barrage of slower balls, the big hits are fraught with danger.
That’s exactly what happened in the Eliminator between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday (May 17).
“The wicket is not great to play shots, we would’ve been bowled out for 70-80 if we tried to play shots,” said Muttiah Muralitharan, the Hyderabad bowling coach, after his side was restricted to 128 for 7.
“We were thinking of 140 and finished 10 short because they bowled well. We’ve seen how teams have defended very low scores here, so we weren’t too nervous.”
Nathan Coulter-Nile, who was named man of the match for figures of 3 for 20 from four overs, seconded Muralitharan’s take.
“I don’t know if 130 was a par score but it was a difficult wicket, definitely. It was holding up. The cross-seamers were holding up and the slower balls were getting a little bit of grip. It was just really tough to play on.”
Even Kolkata, in pursuit of the revised target of 48 from six overs, stuttered despite the pitch easing up after the three-hour spell of rain. They lost three wickets – one of which was the unnecessary run out of Yusuf Pathan – but made it to the finish line with four balls to spare, thanks to Gautam Gambhir’s positive approach.
How did scoring 48 from six overs become a tricky affair, in Bangalore?
It started with the Karnataka State Cricket Association working on a subsurface drainage system soon after IPL 2016 ended in May. Although they didn’t have plans of relaying the pitches, they did shave a considerable amount off the top to bring the thickness of the clay down.
“We hadn’t consolidated the clay over the years, this pitch was re-laid in 2002, so it had piled up to 14 inches,” explained K Sriram, the chief curator of the Chinnaswamy Stadium. “We had to bring it down to seven inches because there was too much of a slope.
“Once we shaved off the top, it didn’t respond like we thought it would. It started breaking up early because of the heat. We tried to pack in more clay and weigh it down, but it wasn’t solving the problem. A lot of people are saying it’s because of the sand we used to relay the ground… Those things are not connected. We worked on the pitch independently.”
Which could explain why the pitch used for the second Test between India and Australia in March earned a ‘below average’ rating from Chris Broad, the match referee for that game.
It seemed like things had returned to old ways when India scored 202 and posted a 75-run win over England in the final game of the three-match Twenty20 International series. Since then, though, it has been a steady stream of low-scoring games.
“We can’t do anything to it now. It will get better,” insisted Sriram. “It’ll take a year for the surface to return to its original state.
“We’ll need to keep treating it like how we used to work with the old surface. Because we didn’t have much time before the IPL, we had to hurry through a lot of our processes.”
Sriram did hit back at the critics who have said the pitch is a tough one to bat on, adding that poor batting too has had a part to play.
“Take for example that stand between Lynn and Narine. They played through the line effortlessly. It looked like the Bangalore of the old. Yes, the pitch is a bit tougher to bat on now but that doesn’t mean you bat negatively,” he remarked. “You can score on this wicket if you play positively. That’s what was missing.”
Sure, positive batting is a must when lining up at the crease; if anything, it’s a prerequisite in T20 cricket. But when you see one delivery kick up from a length to rap you on the gloves and the other sneak under your bat after landing on the same spot, survival becomes the watchword.
If Sriram’s words are anything to go by, by Season 11 of the IPL, it won’t be so.