Soil, grass and wickets
You only talk about Murali or Sanath about Sri Lanka’s World records in cricket. Hey! Wait a minute…. here comes another man from relatively an unknown field – The preparation of the cricket wicket. He is none other than our national curator Anurudha Polonowita who has faithfully served the cause of cricket in Sri Lanka for a mind boggling forty eight years and prepared over a fifty Test wickets and over 150 ODI wickets a sheer record that no other curator could come near even in time to come. In his own words he says “generally abroad a curator gets the chance of preparing only one wicket two the most for international matches, but here due to the limited resources we have to repeat matches at the given venues”.
However this is not a nostalgic cruise down memory lane about his life’s accomplishments, but, a narration of what a cricket wicket should be and the way a good curator puts the icing on the cake. Likewise we asked this doyen of cricket the very meaning of the purpose a cricket wicket serves. Polonowita explained … “Really the pitch is the main thing in a cricket match. Cricket is a game that revolves around the batsman and how many runs a side scores and the way their opponents chase a given total. People pay a lot money and come to watch the game of cricket mainly because of this simple fact. However if a side keeps on batting and not getting out it will be another issue, so the bowlers also must come into focus and preparing a good wicket means that it should help both sides in a balanced way”.
The national curator continued “Since late there is a certain change in the pattern of thinking in the hierarchy of cricket. In the past it was the clubs that maintained the grounds and looked after the upkeep of the wickets. However the clubs did not have the necessary finances to up keep the grounds to meet the international standards. But, now the modus operandi has changed and Sri Lanka Cricket has gone in a big way in looking after the grounds and the allied infrastructure and this has been a big boost to cricket in this island.
“Earlier in the initial era, the grounds were maintained by the ‘meenachchis and the natamis till I took interest in this field and took over the responsibilities of looking after the national and international wickets. Now we place a lot of emphasis on this area of activity. At present we have employed three more graduates to understudy me and right now two of them are in Malaysia studying the wickets that are being prepared by the ACC in connection with the up and coming under 19 World Cup tournament which will be hosted by them.”
Then Polonowita explained the home bound problems. “Generally in other countries a curator gets to prepare only one Test wicket per year and only a few other important games played during the rest of the year. However in Sri Lanka cricket is played round the clock and the wickets are not only used to host Test matches and first class matches, but it also includes school matches and other friendly matches if and when the ground is free. People who are in charge of these facilities are forced to give these grounds out to find the finances to upkeep the ground. With this background, the given scenario was that when a ground was handed over to me I had less than a month to prepare a Test wicket.
“When you are preparing a wicket first you have to lay wicket with new clay prepare it and then plant the grass. When you plant the grass it has to take its natural course rooting itself. When the duration of the rooting process gets shorter the roots have not caught on properly. The result is that when the grass is shaved off there is very little rootmatter to hold the clay on – so the ball starts spinning early sometimes on the first day itself. The mundane person does not see how much work goes into the preparation of a good wicket. You have to lay the clay on, once that is done grow the grass on it which is followed by systematic nursing of the grass along with the rolling and shaving process. When I first took over as the national curator I found that some of the grounds were using lawnmowers and not pitch cutters Lawnmowers have six blades and a normal pitch cutter has double that which helps you to get an even cut, and the board is looking closely at that.
“Till recently what we had in Sri Lanka were the push rollers. Now the SLC has brought some three-ton rollers from India and most of the grounds that play cricket have been provided with a pitch cutter. For instance when we went to Kandy this time to prepare the wicket we discovered that they did not possess an adequate roller and we were in a spot of bother. But, things are now getting into its correct perspective thanks to the initiation of the cricket authorities. To maintain the wickets and grounds at a healthy level you need the heavy and the light rollers, the pitch cutters and the ground covers. We are in the process of purchasing these items and I have been to India and England to see what equipment they are using for their maintenance. My contention is that if you are going to purchase these items you must buy the things that suit our conditions the best.”
“SLC is also in a drive even to develop the facilities available at school level. Now here at Ananda incidentally which is my alma-mater we are on a ground development drive with the assistance of the Board. This is not confined only to this school but many others are also being assisted with the improvement of their infrastructure at present. School cricket is our main feeder point to national cricket. I am personally involved in an official capacity with all these development work. ”
Then we put forward our main question – we asked that it was noticed especially during this series against Bangladesh. Sri Lanka had produced some very positive wickets where it helped the fast bowlers with some fast and bouncy tracks, but, at the same time it also gave some assistance to the spinners and most of all if the batsman applied himself he also could have piled on the runs. In reply Polonowita said “One of the main factors to this is that we had sufficient time to prepare the wickets.
All three venues – SSC, P. Saravanamuttu Stadium and the Asgiriya Stadium were closed for a given period and this backed with the proper equipment at our disposal we had the time to prepare good cricket wickets. We have already got down to the business of preparing the wickets for the tie against England which is coming up shortly. At the same time to shift our accent from spinner friendly wickets to pace oriented wickets we had to look at the soil composition, so we looked at the clay from Brisbane, India and England, but, we found that Australian clay was the best, but, it was a very expensive exercise. The next best was our own soil which contains about 48-50% clay and this comes very close to the Australian soil. At the same time I must mention that the Chairman of the SLC Jayantha Dharmadasa is very keen to have fast and bouncy wickets prepared in Sri Lanka and this augurs well for the future of the game.