The ICC pitch consultant mentioned that he had no knowledge of the alteration.
The BCCI, India’s cricket board, faces accusations of interference in selecting the pitch for India’s semi-final against New Zealand at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.
Pitches for the tournament fall under the jurisdiction of the International Cricket Council (ICC), aiming to provide neutral conditions that don’t overly favor the host nation or disrupt the fairness of the competition.
An agreement was established before the World Cup, specifying a fresh pitch for the Mumbai semi-final to ensure even bounce and pace, essentially creating a “neutral” surface. However, a report from the Daily Mail suggests a late change in the Wankhede pitch without ICC authorization.
The switch from the originally planned pitch seven to pitch six resulted in India’s semi-final being played on a strip that had hosted two prior matches: England versus South Africa and India against Sri Lanka. New Zealand’s captain, Kane Williamson, described it as a “used surface,” while Rohit Sharma, the Indian captain, noted it seemed “slower.”
This alteration seemed to give India a potential tactical advantage, especially considering their strength in slow bowling. Notably, in a match two years prior at the same stadium, India’s spinners dominated, restricting New Zealand to just 64 runs on a turning pitch. Reports from Indian media previously suggested that India’s team management had requested slower pitches for their matches before the tournament, believing it would play to their advantage.
India won the toss and elected to bat first, facing the intense Mumbai heat, similar to conditions that had caused issues for England’s bowlers in an earlier match. India posted an imposing 397 for four in their 50 overs. Chasing under the lights, New Zealand managed 327 runs before being all out, leading to India advancing to the World Cup final.
While the ICC was informed that pitch No. 7 had been retired due to an undisclosed issue, it appears that the ICC pitch consultant, Andy Atkinson, was unaware of both the switch and the request for it.
According to the Indian Express report, India’s team management allegedly instructed the BCCI-appointed ground staff at the Wankhede Stadium to remove all remaining grass from the pitch the day before the match. This process is known to typically reduce the pitch’s pace and movement.
A member of the Mumbai Cricket Association staff confirmed receiving instructions to prepare a slow track, stating, “It won’t be a turner but the team had asked for a slow pitch. It was the main reason we shaved off the grass.”
An email from Atkinson, quoted in the Mail, raises concerns about whether this pitch preparation aligns with the standard protocol for ICC Cricket World Cup finals. It speculates whether this might be the first final where the pitch was specifically chosen and prepared based on requests from the team management or the home nation board, potentially indicating favoritism toward one side rather than ensuring a neutral pitch selection as customary for such significant matches.
A BCCI spokesperson stated, “The ICC’s independent pitch consultant collaborates with the host and venues to allocate pitches, an ongoing process throughout an event of this length and nature.”
The switch in pitches is likely to generate divided opinions. According to ICC event regulations, pitch selection and oversight fall under the responsibility of the ICC’s tournament pitch consultant, who works with the home board and ground to decide on the strips to be used.
This World Cup has been noted for its unusual focus on home advantage in its management and execution. Despite the general silence regarding India’s substantial influence on cricket economically and culturally, Pakistan’s coach Mickey Arthur remarked on the experience of playing India at the Modi Stadium, likening it to “playing in a BCCI event.”
While in bilateral series, pitches often favor the home team’s attack—an aspect that adds to cricket’s allure and challenge—doing so in a global tournament contradicts the principle of fair competition on neutral grounds.
Supporters may argue that India has triumphed in all 10 games, establishing themselves as the most impressive team in the tournament regardless of the pitch conditions. Notably, India’s pace attack has outshone its spinners so far, although other teams boast top-tier fast bowlers, whereas India possesses a clear advantage with Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav.
Concerns may arise about a similar approach being taken for the final in Ahmedabad, situated in the home state of Narendra Modi. An India-centric final could serve as a significant spectacle ahead of April’s elections. Several group games at the Modi Stadium deviated from the ICC’s planned surface allocations. Currently, the ICC is proposing the final be played on pitch No. 5, which has seen only one previous use.