The fourth IPL match in Chennai saw home team Chennai Super Kings clinch a comfortable seven wicket win over the Kolkata Knight riders to seal the top spot in the IPL 2019 table. But despite the victory, CSK captain MS Dhoni expressed dissatisfaction over the condition of the pitch at the MA Chidambaram stadium.
KKR, which batted first managed to score only 108 runs. KKR’s 50 came up only in the 12th over, indicating that their batsmen couldn’t adapt to the surface at Chepauk. And despite the low score, Chennai played it safe and took the match into the 17th over before registering their second victory in succession.
In the post match presentation, Dhoni said, “I don’t think we want to be playing on these tracks. It becomes too low scoring. It becomes slightly difficult for our batsmen as well. We have been cribbing about the track but we have ended up winning the game.”
This is not the first time that the Chepauk pitch has come under scrutiny. After the opening match of the IPL saw Royal Challengers Bengaluru led by Virat Kohli being bundled out for 70 in 17.1 overs, both captains had commented on the slowness of the track.
Dhoni said, “I never expected the wicket to play how it actually played and it was too slow and it just reminded me of the 2011 Champions League wicket. I feel if the wicket stays like this, it will be very tough for us also. The wicket definitely needs to be a lot better than where it is right now, even with dew it was still spinning big. I feel it needs to be high-scoring.“
Kohli, who is also the Indian captain, meanwhile commented, “It wasn’t easy to bat on, looked much better surface though.”
When TNM spoke to experts and former cricketers who have played professionally in Chennai, they confirmed that the pitch was indeed not conducive for the T20 format where audiences expect the bat to dominate the ball and high scores are the order of the day. However, they pointed out that teams need to adapt to the pitch and devise a strategy accordingly.
‘Chennai heat responsible’
Speaking to TNM, former Indian cricketer Hemang Badani says the pitch used to have good bounce till about 15 years ago, before it was relaid. But for the last 10 years, it has always been a slow track.
“The point Dhoni was trying to make is that he wasn’t enjoying playing on these tracks. He means pitches should be better than this and more suitable for T20 cricket. But the Chepauk track has traditionally been slow. It is not like a Bombay or a Mohali where high scores are common. You hardly have anyone scoring 200 here,” he says. “It is not going to change and I know this because I’ve played here for several years since I am a local boy. Because of the heat in Chennai, the pitches tend to get dry and crack easily. The problem is the temperatures in the city. No matter how much water they put, how much they roll the surface, you will have this problem because it is summer,” he explains.
Former Indian cricketer Subramaniam Badrinath too agrees that the heat could be responsible for the state of the pitch. But he argues that the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), which manages the pitch, could have been better prepared.
“Too much cricket has been played on the Chennai track and to be honest, I don’t think they had enough time to prepare. There is absolutely no grass on the track from what I see and this is not something that will happen overnight. It is a three-week process for grass to be ready,” he says. “In addition to this, the heat makes it very dry. You can’t water the wicket before the game. The people managing the field also can’t do much about it now, they should have started at least a month back,” he adds.
Both former cricketers however dismiss any disappointment from teams over the nature of the pitch.
‘Teams need to strategise’
“The pitch is not as bad as they make it out to be. Atleast 120-130 runs can be scored,” says Badrinath.
Hemang meanwhile points out that CSK seems to have no problem hitting big scores on the field. On April 6, the home team managed to score 160 runs in the first innings against Punjab on the same pitch. Similarly, in the match before this in Chepauk, CSK scored 175 when they batted first against Rajasthan Royals.
“When Chennai can do it why can’t the others? There is a way of playing on this pitch and the other teams have not exhibited ability or strategy,” says Hemang. “Players have to adapt to the pitch and conditions in the city they are playing in, not the other way round. They are professionals, they need to be able to cope.”