Stand-in captain Hardik Pandya didn’t mince words in his criticism of the pitches on offer for the first two T20Is against New Zealand. India crawled home to a series-levelling victory with only a ball to spare at the Ekana Stadium in Lucknow despite chasing just 99 on a wicket that rendered stroke-making very difficult. In fact, not a single six was hit over the 39.5 overs of the game.
“To be honest, it was a shocker of a wicket,” Pandya said at the post-match presentation. “Both the games we have played so far. I don’t mind difficult wickets. I am all up for that, but these two wickets are not made for T20. Somewhere down the line the curators or the grounds that we are going to play in should make sure they prepare the pitches earlier.
“Even 120 would have been a winning total here. Dew didn’t play much of a role because if you see they were able to spin the ball more than us. It was a shocker of a wicket. The ball was flying for even the fast bowlers,” he added.
Despite the teams scoring 176 and 155 in the opening T20I, Pandya had expressed surprise at the nature of the pitch at Ranchi, especially with how it seemed to take more turn in the second innings when traditional Indian T20 wickets allow the ball to skid on nicely with the dew. In contrast, the surface at Lucknow offered less on the shock quotient but more for the spinners, who sent down 30 overs over the two innings. Seventeen of those were bowled by New Zealand, who had as many as five bowlers sending down spin.
“Firstly when we saw the wicket we had realised that it was on the drier side,” India’s bowling coach Paras Mhambrey said after the game. “Obviously there was a bit of grass covering in the middle but at both the ends there was no grass. So when we came yesterday, it looked like it would turn. It would be a challenging wicket, we realised that. But we didn’t think it would be this difficult. The reason I think you’ve got to ask the curator why he wasn’t able to [prepare a better pitch]. Was it time? I don’t know…
“We knew that it would be a big challenge. Luckily we can be happy that we controlled the game. I think anything beyond 120 or 130, it would have been very challenging. We did well to restrict them to 99 and give ourselves a reasonable target.
While New Zealand skipper Mitchell Santner echoed Mhambrey’s opinion that another 15-20 runs on the board may have been enough for a win, there was a softer viewpoint from Washington Sundar, who had also come to the defence of the Ranchi pitch calling it a ‘one-off’.
“Two-three out of 10-11 games like these would be amazing and it’s again a skill as to how well you play spin and get through the game,” he said. “Lot of teams are very well equipped as well, they all come with quite a few fast bowlers and spinners as well. It’s exciting and we are all happy that we won the game. All of us have been on our toes and I’m sure everyone in the stadium and people watching on TV as well would have been [on their toes too]…”