India vs SA: Gahunje pitch, curator back in focus

The Times of India

The Times of India

Author 2019-10-08 21:00:00

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  • The second Test begins on October 10
  • The Feb 2017 Test between India and South Africa at the MCA Stadium in Gahunje lasted only three days
  • Spinners took 31 wickets between them and the pitch received a 'poor' rating from the the ICC
PUNE: Former Maharashtra speedster Pandurang Salgaonkar will get a chance to redeem himself when the Gahunje stadium hosts a Test match between India and South Africa from Thursday. A lot has happened in Salgaonkar’s life in the last two and a half years.

The 69-year-old, who looks after the pitch and ground preparation at the international facility at MCA, faced heavy criticism after the Test between India and Australia in Feb 2017 lasted only three days, with spinners taking 31 wickets between them. Being the first ever Test in Pune made it worse. The ICC had rated the wicket as ‘poor’.

The MCA didn’t take any chances for the IPL matches the same year, roping in former Maharashtra captain and national selector Surendra Bhave to assist Salgaonkar for the April-May tournament.

Salgaonkar, unfortunately, was then caught in a sting operation related to pitch fixing just before the India-New Zealand ODI on the same ground four months later. Though the efforts to disturb the ODI beyond repair weren’t successful, Salgaonkar was suspended by International Cricket Council (ICC) for six months for failing to report the incident to the anti-corruption authorities.

Though MCA recalled Salgaonkar for the job as soon as his suspension period ended, there was an attached stigma.

“As far as I know, only I’m looking after the Gahunje wicket for the South Africa Test,” said Salgaonkar, looking fit and composed. “I won’t be talking to the media about the pitch or anything before or during the Test match,” he told TOI on Monday.

“Everything is perfect at the ground. There are no problems whatsoever due to rains.”

The Gahunje stadium, which has a sand-based outfield, has got a good drainage facility. Salgaonkar had defended himself about the Test match wicket against Australia by saying that the team management and the BCCI curator tried to change the nature of the pitch at the very last moment and that led to the complications. That’s not the case now.

If spinners called the shots two years ago on this pitch, it could be the turn of fast bowlers now.

Intermittent rain, cool breeze and moisture is expected to give some encouragement to the pacers. The batsmen will enjoy their stay at the crease on day two and three only if the sun is out and the bounce is conducive for strokeplay.

However, the pitch at Gahunje has been unpredictable in its short history. It has been managed by Salgaonkar from the beginning, including the first IPL in Pune in 2012.

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