Kolkata used to have one of the most sporting wickets in India at one time, with bounce for the pacers initially and sharp turn towards the end. This would produce the sort of seesaw battles between sides, and between bat and ball, that bring out the best in Test cricket.
The pitch at Eden Gardens has slowed down over the years, however, especially after it was relaid with more clay in the soil mix. In the last five years, India has played three Test matches there against varied opposition — the West Indies, South Africa and Pakistan — and came up with a 600-plus score each time.
This time Eden’s seasoned curator Prabir Mukherjee has left the field in a huff, feeling insulted at BCCI sending another curator Ashish Bhowmick to oversee his preparation for the third Test between India and England. Bhowmick was despatched after Prabirda’s irate reaction to Indian captain MS Dhoni’s insistence that the English should be tested on another out-and-out turner, despite the boomerang in Bombay.
How much of a turner can be made out of the Eden wicket at the eleventh hour remains to be seen, however, because the dark clay of the pitch is quite different from the reddish brown soil at the Wankhede. No curator would want to leave it so underprepared as to start crumbling on Day One, and unless it crumbles, the turn will be slow and bounce low on that pitch once all the grass is shorn off.
It won’t be easy therefore for the Indian bowlers to work their way through this English batting which has already adjusted to the conditions here, especially if the law of averages helps Alastair Cook win the toss this time. The other side of the coin, however, is that India’s beleaguered batsmen may find life easier, after being so badly exposed on a lively pitch.
Sachin Tendulkar, in particular, facing ridicule for playing on past his retirement date, will be hoping that MSD scores a hat-trick with the spin of the coin. With the English pacers defanged on a slow turner, and his nemesis in Mumbai, Monty Panesar, unlikely to enjoy the kind of response he got from the Wankhede pitch, the stage is set for another one of his periodic ‘ripostes’ to his critics on a batting Eden.