Our cricket-frenzy nation has produced many cricketing greats, particularly batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Virendra Sehwag, currently rising Test captain Virat Kohli along with many more. The bowling greats from India have comparatively been few, especially pacers.
When thinking of quality Indian spinners, names like Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajit Agarkar instantly comes to one’s head.
In comparison, the conversation about pacing greats quickly ends with Zaheer Khan, Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath. The prime reason for the above is that the Indian pitches have known to be on the drier side and slow which makes most of the batting pitches essentially along with helping spinners spin the ball.
The Kanpur pitch in the first Test of the India-New Zealand Test series was the same, providing complete support to the spinners and thus, came the menacing performances from Ashwin and Jadeja. But the historic Eden Garden proved to be different, very different. The Eden pitch was so different that it took by surprise the Indians and Kiwis alike.
The relaid Eden pitch seemed to be almost unpredictable. Playing on the track for the first time made the conditions even more mysterious for the teams.
The pitch wore a green and damp look; clearly the grass was much enhanced making the pitch seem very different from what Eden has offered in recent times.
To be honest, we thought the pitch (Eden Garden) would be different. A good cricket wicket, it’s just been relaid, and is going to get better and better,” said New-Zealand stand-in-captain Ross Taylor after the completion of the second Test in Kolkata.
Being the oldest cricket stadium in the country, Eden Garden has been a part of a rich history. The stadium hosted the 199th game of Sachin Tendulkar’s career and witnessed the highest ever score by a batsman in ODI’s, a 264 off 173 balls, scored by Rohit Sharma on its 150th anniversary in 2014.
The stadium has also been a help to the spinners with the most wickets taken here by Harbhajan Singh (46 wickets) followed by the great Indian spinner and currently, the coach of the Indian cricket team Anil Kumble (40 wickets).
Evidently, the Eden pitch has had batsmen and spinners perform well regularly on its historic ground but during the second Test of India vs New Zealand series, it were the pacers who shone the brightest.
Back in 2015, before hosting the third T20 international between India and South Africa, Sourav Ganguly, President, Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) had said that the pitch will be batting friendly.
Since early this year, Eden Garden was being renovated and the changes in the conditions and facilities were what changed the face of a regular Eden game. Around January, the CAB changed the drainage system of the stadium in order to counter the problem of water-logging because Kolkata is known for regular rains and since the India-New Zealand series was to be held in October, the rains were to pour down in almost all probability. Even during the match, on the second day, the game was delayed by two and a half hours due to rain but the pitch was well ready to be played on again.
What made the biggest difference for the pacers was the enhanced grass on the pitch. In July this year, the top layer of the entire Eden Garden square was relaid after 12 years as a part of ground preparations.
“The grass layer of the square is being relaid. We have dug up around 10 inches and a special variety of grass (G2) brought from Odisha will be implanted,” Debabrata Das, Cricket Association of Bengal’s grounds committee chairman, had said. And it showed in the game. The relaid grass was different and special. It generated an uneven bounce which made each coming ball extremely unpredictable for the batsmen.
Rohit Sharma, after his stable and crucial knock of 82 runs at the end of the third day, had said, “You may have seen this in the last two days. They have relaid the wicket. It’s not a typical Kolkata wicket what it used to be. There’s uneven bounce. At no point batsman could relax or take it for granted. Every ball you played, you had to make sure that you gave 100 per cent.”
In fact, the Kiwis made the best of the wicket in the early hours of the day as they bowled short deliveries outside the off-stump which when combined with the odd bounce of the pitch, made it difficult for the batsmen to hit. This is how the New Zealand bowlers managed to frustrate the Indian captain Virat Kohli and when they would throw one or two loose deliveries in between, Kohli was tempted to go for shots which would give the Kiwis a slight chance to outsmart him.
Kohli’s dismissal in the first innings was also due to the uneven bounce. The ball was bowled onside; from going low on the wicket it suddenly got an odd bounce and left Kohli without an answer.
Despite early dismissals, what worked in India’s favour was the lower order and like Rohit Sharma said, “Condition was never easy. Once the ball gets softer, there’s not much for the bowlers. If you put the ball in the right areas, you will get odd bounce.” This is what worked in favour of Saha, Shami and others down the order and they were able to accumulate runs by attacking hard on the soft balls.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar was who shone the brightest on the pacer-friendly Eden wicket with his fifer. The ball was swinging heavily and bouncing unevenly as well and that made Bhuvneshwar certainly excited.
To see the wicket having grass as well as bounce made Bhuvneshwar happy. “In India you rarely get this kind of wicket, so I wanted to make full use of it,” Bhuvneshwar said at the end of the game.
Eden, earlier as well, had helped India’s former captain and World Cup winner, Kapil Dev register a hat-trick, but not many pacers have seen that kind of success in Eden Garden and at home generally.
With the freshly-added grass and bounce, Eden Garden has transformed itself into an even more complete pitch; one that aids batsmen, spinners and pacers alike and like Taylor said it’s only going to get better from here. If the same conditions stay with the pitch, it may just have become a haven for the Indian pacers, who rarely get such a wicket in home conditions.