Pitch curators feel the heat in global warming

Many curators around the world trying to do their best at a thankless job, but they can’t quite seem to get it right.
Last Updated : 27 February 2024, 16:35 IST
Last Updated : 27 February 2024, 16:35 IST

Follow Us :


Ranchi: ‘Dr SB Singh: Doctor of Philosophy - PhD, Cricket Pitches’ is a pitch curator’s bio on LinkedIn. 

This is the man who was watching his work of art shrink and swell to the ebb and flow of weather while India played England in the fourth Test in Ranchi. 

The Jharkhand Cricket State Association stadium’s surface has been Singh’s canvas for the last two decades. But, something has changed. That canvas isn’t as predictable as it used to be. He can’t quite get his art looking the way he wants it to.   

Godfrey Dabrera in Colombo, Sri Lanka may not look too perturbed, but that’s just his demeanour. You can hear his concern when he speaks. 

Mike Hall who tackles the pitch at the Whalley Cricket Club in Manchester, United Kingdom isn’t sure what the future holds, but he’s pressing on. 

These are just three of the many curators around the world trying to do their best at a thankless job, but they can’t quite seem to get it right. Something isn’t quite right. 

Hall is the more symbiosis-driven of the lot, and he jumps to a postulate. “…Global warming was always going to impact pitches. It doesn’t fully explain why curators, especially those professional ones who are paid so well can’t do more with the technology they have, but as an amateur curator, I can tell that the seasons are bizarre and that makes being a curator quite challenging.”

Although they skimmed the surface, this phenomenon was alluded to by England’s Rapid Transition Alliance in a report they submitted in 2020. The report warned that climate emergency, including droughts, forest fires and erratic rainfall, will have severe consequences on several sports, especially cricket. This report is focused on the the effects of global warming on the players, but it does mention that surfaces will take a toll too. 

How, you ask? Singh has some answers. 

“We can control pitch behaviour based on the proportions of sand, silt, clay, organic matter and the minerals in the soil,” he says. “We work out watering, trimming and rolling protocols accordingly. But that’s only part of the study. You can’t take the pitch at face value, you need to look at the base value. The weather impacts every major and minor component when it comes to pitches. So, relative humidity, dew point, wind speed and other factors control the behaviour of the pitch.”

Besides establishing how the pitch reacts to the weather, he also goes on to explain the unpredictability of weather forcing curators to recalibrate their methods to provide predictable wickets. 

“Even here, the second the sun came out, the ball started doing things, as soon as the temperature dropped, the pitch behaved itself,” he says. "It’s interesting. That much behaviour change, so quickly, is not something I have seen before, but we haven’t seen the weather profile be so fickle here either. This is new. The clay is shrinking and swelling when the temperature varies and that either opens or closes the cracks.

Dabrera doesn’t get into the technicality of things, not because he’s a man of few words, but because he prefers to let his instincts take over when it comes to pitch preparation. 

“See, we don’t have set seasons anymore. Everything changes every day so we do the best we can,” he says. “I can’t remember seasons being so haphazard. Of course, global warming is altering the weather and thereby altering the pitches. No sporting surface needs as much care as a cricket pitch. That’s because no surface plays such a big part in the result of the game as a cricket pitch… okay, maybe golf to a degree, but in 22 yards? Nothing else. This is why we get belted by people because they think we should be able to give them perfection because of its a small surface area. They don’t know that that’s the hardest part, we can’t predict it the way we used to anymore.”

Hall cites an interesting anecdote to drive home the point. “Around 2015, there was flooding in my ground, and we sort of accepted it because that year saw record rainfall in England. I asked about flooding at my ground to those who played there in the 50s, 60s and 70s, they said they had never seen flooding there before. We then got an expert to try and explain this to us. He collected the samples and said it should be an anomaly because that particular year did see strange rain patterns. But every year since, there has been flooding in the ground. The strange part is that there is flooding on the outfield, but the square is bone dry so I have to water that part. 

“Moisture regulation is the most important thing about pitches,” he adds in a still-befuddled tone. 

Evan Flint was overseeing his canvas turn into a disaster at Cape Town when India won the shortest Test match ever against South Africa in January this year. He didn’t know where to hide, copping criticism everywhere he turned, but looked up and established the problem point.

“It’s the weather. It’s the drought. There’s only so much heat a pitch can handle when there is only so much water we can provide it,” he had said earlier. “These temperatures are not abnormal, but rapid fluctuation is.”

When all of the aforementioned curators were asked if drop-in pitches such as the ones used in Australia and New Zealand could be the answer, they all had one thing to say: “No, it’s just not cricket.”

Published 27 February 2024, 16:35 IST

Deccan Herald is on WhatsApp Channels | Join now for Breaking News & Editor's Picks

Follow us on :

Follow Us