Watching the grass grow at Eden

Shamik Chakrabarty
Long queues were seen at Eden Gardens’ ticket counters on Monday. A full house is expected when India take on Bangladesh in their first pink-ball Test on Friday. (Express Photo: Partha Paul)

Kolkata, at least its centre square, is fast turning into a ‘pink city’. Jaipur shouldn’t mind, for the makeover here is temporary, exclusively related to the pink-ball Test between India and Bangladesh at Eden Gardens starting Friday.

From the Citizen’s Park near Theatre Road to the graffiti on the outer walls of Eden, many shades of pink have subdued the smoggy grey – the metropolis’s staple colour in early winter. Inside Eden, however, it’s all ‘green, green grass of home’.

That a day-night Test to be played with the pink ball needs some extra grass cover is well-known. The art and science of preparing a pitch for the occasion is a little different from the methods used for conventional, red-ball cricket. The pink-ball loses its colour early, so as a countermeasure, grass on the pitch must be a little longer than normal. Curators and ground staff perform the action in reverse for the outfield, to reduce the dew factor.

The Eden pitch looked distinctly green on Monday. (Express Photo: Partha Paul)

Daljit Singh, the former BCCI chief curator, gets into the specifics. “The curators look into the requirements of the game. Players should be able to see the ball for 80 overs. So the pitch needs to have grass cover, but it need not necessarily be a green-top, where the moisture content is high. Grass length on the Adelaide Oval pitch, when they first played a pink-ball Test there, was 11mm. But 6-8mm should suffice, for anything longer than that will make the contest lopsided in favour of the quick bowlers,” Singh told The Indian Express.

Eden curator Sujan Mukherjee is satisfied with 6mm. “8mm would be a couple of millimetres too long. The pitch shouldn’t become unplayable for the batsmen. Spectators come to witness an even contest between bat and ball. Grass cover is needed on the pitch to help retain the colour of the ball and the pink ball does assist the fast bowlers (because of an extra coat of lacquer). Still you have to strike a balance. At 6mm, the batsman would be able to play their shots,” Mukherjee told this paper.

After becoming the Eden curator three-and-a-half years ago, Mukherjee made a radical overhaul of the pitches and the outfield. The dullest ones have been transformed into the liveliest ones, pitch-wise. Eden has won the BCCI’s best venue award for the last three years on the spin under his charge.

As far as the day-night Test is concerned, it presents Mukherjee, a former Bengal Ranji player, with a new challenge. The 64-year-old is banking on his experience of preparing the pitch for the CAB Super League final three years ago – India’s first pink-ball game.

Back to the grass length, even 6mm of live grass can make life difficult for the batsmen. This is where rolling becomes important, says Singh. “Normally you avoid rolling the pitch in the afternoon, when the sun is out. You roll in the morning and evening to ensure the grass remains lively. But in this case, as because you have taller grass, you have to roll it in the afternoon so that the grass loses its green-tinge a little. You have to have controlled watering of the surface,” Singh explained.

Dew factor

He oversaw pitch preparation when pink ball was introduced in the Duleep Trophy four seasons ago. But this is for the first time a pink-ball, day-night, multi-day game is going to be played in winter. Dew could be excessive. According to Singh, thinner grass on the outfield is a way to counter it.

“Dew arrives after sundown. If the outfield has longer grass, the top layer becomes very dewy. So the outfield should have thinner grass and watering must stop at least three days before the start of the match.”

Mukherjee is a bit more optimistic when it comes to dew.

“Until yesterday, and I left around 8pm, dew was pretty manageable. Unless there’s a drastic increase, it should be OK. Also, I have seen the SG pink-ball. I think it will last,” said the Eden curator.
He spoke about how the pitch will have light watering in the lead-up the match and also, during the match. As for the outfield, watering has been stopped.

“Cyclone Bulbul has taken care of it. The amount of rainfall we had, no more watering was needed for the next 15 days. The Eden outfield is perfectly fine; grass length and everything... We just have to polish it,” Mukherjee observed.