Fever pitch: Curators attempt to ban media from taking pictures of second Test pitch

Delhi: The second Test pitch is already embroiled in controversy with ground staff attempting to ban Australian media from taking pictures of the strip, as another stern examination against spin looms for the visitors against India.

The 22-yard-long strip in the middle of Arun Jaitley Stadium is the most important piece of land for the next few days – and it was being protected with commensurate intent by the venue’s curators on Wednesday.

Steve Smith checks the pitch ahead of the second Test in Delhi.Credit:Getty Images

In a sign of how sensitive an issue the pitch has become after the controversy leading into the series-opener, ground staff ordered an accredited member of the touring media not to take footage of the bone-dry surface.

A source with knowledge of the matter said ground staff had mistakenly accused the reporter of being responsible for taking the pictures which raised scrutiny of the bizarre pitch preparation technique last week in Nagpur.

Initially instructed by a ground staff employee he needed to be at least 30 metres away to take footage, the journalist was then asked to move again to the boundary, where he was informed he could not film at all.

With the stands open and unguarded, banning media from taking pictures of an uncovered pitch is an exercise in futility.

The Age was able to photograph the pitch from high up in the unnamed stand behind the bowler’s arm before the Australian team arrived for training.

The episode is reminiscent of the attempt in vain by the ground staff in Ranchi in the 2017 tour to ban media and players from filming their pitch. Despite Australia’s concerns over the track, the visitors survived a searching test from Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on the final day to save the game.

Another daunting challenge awaits Australia’s batters this week on a parched pitch that already appears to have numerous footmarks. Though it is not expected to be as treacherous to batters as it appears, players believe it will play low and slow.

“It looks pretty dry. The groundsman said the nets look pretty similar and the two days we trained on were really low and took a lot of turn,” paceman Mitchell Starc said. “If that’s an indication, then that’s what it’s going to be like.

The pitch on show during Australia’s training session today.Credit:Getty Images

“Having a look the last couple of days it looks like it’s prepared pretty similar as well.”

The local word, though, is that the black soil at this venue behaves differently to the red clay of VCA Stadium.

Scoring can be extremely tough here. In 2015, when the venue was known as Feroz Shah Kotla, South Africa’s batting maestro AB de Villiers made 43 off 297 balls in a near five-hour long vigil in a bid to bat out a draw. The Proteas stonewalled for 143 overs but were dismissed for 143 shortly after tea on the fifth day.

The 150-year-old ground in India’s capital has become a fortress for their Test side. They have not lost here in 36 years, their last defeat coming against an all-conquering West Indies side led by Viv Richards in 1987.

Australia boasted a similar record at the Gabba until Ajinkya Rahane, deputising for Virat Kohli, led a severely depleted India team to a famous victory in 2021 to seal historic back-to-back series successes Down Under.

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