New Delhi, Feb 24 (IANS) The long suspense over the Ferozeshah Kotla pitch was finally over as South Africa and West Indies Thursday played the first of the four World Cup matches to be hosted here.
There was a bit of grass left on the newly-laid pitch and experts said that it could assist the fast bowlers. “It will have plenty of runs though,” pointed former Australian Tom Moody in his pitch report.
South African captain Graeme Smith, however, sprang a bigger surprise, first by including three spinners in Johan Botha, Robin Peterson and Pakistan born-leg spinner Imran Tahir and then asking off-spinner Botha to open the bowling. It turned the clock back to 1992 World Cup when Deepak Patel, the New Zealand off-spinner, enjoyed a fair bit of success by opening the attack.
West Indies were not ready for this and Botha responded magnificiently with the prized wicket of Chris Gayle off the third ball of the match.
The ball pitched outside off and turned a bit away from Gayle, who edged it to Jacques Kallis at first slip. It was apparent from then on that the wicket will help the spinners. Smith, at the pre-match conference Wednesday and before the the toss, had said the pitch will be an unknown factor for both the teams. His gamble to go with three spinners indeed “surprised” many including former India skipper Sourav Ganguly.
There was more drama in the first over as Botha hit the pad of Darren Bravo off the last ball and South Arica went for a referral after the loud appeal was turned down by the umpire.
But it was fast bowler Dale Steyn’s second over that showed that there were no demons in the pitch as feared. The bounce was even and ball came on to the bat nicely.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) had banned the ground from holding international matches for one year after the India-Sri Lanka match in 2009 December was abandoned due to “dangerous and unfit” wicket.
The Kotla wicket was known for being low and slow turner, but in that match some of the deliveries reared up dangeruosly from the good length spot forcing the abandonement.
In the last one year, the ICC chief pitch curator Andy Atkinson alongwith chairman of Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) grounds and wickets committee Venkat Sundaram, have been supervising the pitch preparation at Kotla.
Delhi hosted two Ranji Trophy matches against Bengal and Gujarat in November to test the wicket, but there was no warm up matches for the World Cup here. The fact that Kotla was holding a World Cup match without sufficient play on the fresh track was a worrying factor.
After Thursday, Atkinson and Sundaram will surely be smiling all the way.