From Chennai curator, a firm reason for India win against Australia

MS Dhoni
The windowless shed behind the sightscreen at Chepauk is a happy place. Hours after India won the first Test against Australia by eight wickets, a noisy group of ground staff is playing cards, surrounded by lawn mowers and other gardening equipment. The man in charge, curator K Parthasarathy, sits on a chair contentedly. The upbeat mood and the sense of accomplishment are because of a job well done. Actually it is more than that.

The 60-year-old, who has been preparing pitches at the M A Chidambaram Stadium for about four decades, and his team have achieved the impossible. In a game where Indian spinners have taken 20 wickets, the pitch has held its own. The expected chorus of criticism from the visiting team, a ritual for ages, is missing this time.

Parthasarathy reveals the secret behind the elusive turning track that Indian skipper M S Dhoni had been wanting all through the England series. "We started by making the entire pitch firm. After that we watered it selectively. The areas on either side of the stumps were kept dry, and so turned out to be loose. The line of the stumps was watered and rolled, so it stayed firm through the Test," he says.

This resulted in the pitch being true where the pacers pitched the ball, and abrasive in the areas where the spinners operated.

So the Aussie pacers concentrating on the line of the stumps, hoping that the wear and tear would give them uneven bounce and thus lbw or bowled decisions, failed. The spinners from both the teams enjoyed the natural variation that the rough spots on the loose soil provided.

"If I had kept the entire pitch dry, people would have called it under-prepared. But now nobody is complaining," says Parthasarathy.

And that is true. During the last few days, the Australian players were asked several leading questions at the press conferences about the Chepauk pitch. But they didn't bite the bait.

Australian all-rounder Moses Henriques said he enjoyed the challenge of playing in the sub-continent and it was the footmarks on the loose soil that were responsible for the uneven bounce.

After the loss on Tuesday, visiting skipper Michael Clarke too found no fault with the surface. "I like to see a result in Test cricket, and the fact that the game went five days says to me that it's a pretty good Test match wicket," he said.

Dhoni, who was critical of the Motera track during the last series against England despite winning there, too appreciated the surface and said other centres could take a cue from the Chepauk pitch.

Both the captains agreed that the pitch had looked "ugly" on the first day, but it had played much better than expected. The reason for the "dirty" look, as the curator says, was the different water content, and thus varying colour.

Parthasarathy had done something similar during the 1998 India-Australia series. With leg-spinner Shane Warne being the main Aussie bowler, Parthasarathy's mix-and-match was different. "I kept the square patches outside the leg stump, on either side of the wicket, really hard. It was difficult to get turn from that part as there would be no rough there," he says. Tendulkar scored a hundred, Warne went 1/122 and India won the first match of that series by 179 runs.

"After that game, Warne came to me and asked why he wasn't getting the turn and others were. I told him it was because of his dodgy shoulder, that was to be operated later in the series," says Parthasarathy.

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