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Bharat Sundaresan

Posted: Nov 20, 2011 at 0010 hrs IST
      

Mumbai: A few days before he was appointed as the head coach of the Indian cricket team in May, Duncan Fletcher made a visit to the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai to sort out a few formalities. As he sat chatting with the board's chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty, the burly Zimbabwean was introduced to Sudhir Naik, a former Test opener and the man then in-charge of the pitch at the Wankhede Stadium. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, the two indulged in a brief discussion regarding the state of wickets around the country.

Fletcher and Naik soon parted ways, promising to meet again on a later date to advance their dialogue but not before the former England coach showered his praise on the Wankhede pitch, based on his past experiences. It is a conversation that Naik remembers fondly. He recalls Fletcher having asserted that the wicket his former team had played India on here in 2006-the last Test to be played at the venue-was the best he had ever seen in the country. “He was the England coach then, and I still believe it was the best pitch for Test cricket I have seen in India. It helped both fast bowlers and spinners, and also allowed the batsmen to score freely,” Naik recalls.

Though not contracted with the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), Naik is back at his hallowed turf, after having agreed to monitor the preparation of the pitch, as the Wankhede Stadium welcomes back Test cricket following a near six-year gap. And while he is looking forward to resume his pitch forum with Fletcher, Naik is confident that the Indian coach will like what he sees this time around too.

“It's been manicured perfectly, and there will be wonderful carry on this wicket. The West Indians always prefer pitches with bounce, and here the batsmen on both sides will find it easier to play strokes on the rise,” says Naik.

Not like Kotla, Eden

The pitches during the first two Tests at Delhi and Kolkata did come for mild criticism, especially because of their slow nature. Both matches finished in less than four days, but while the Ferozshah Kotla did provide some added assistance to the spinners in particular, the second Test at the Eden Gardens was basically decided following the visitors inexplicable first-innings collapse on the third morning.

Despite his spinners, Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin, having dominated the series, with 13 wickets apiece-26 wickets at 22.73 overall-skipper MS Dhoni had thrown in a not-so-subtle hint on what he expected from the pitch for the third Test. “India is known for wickets where it turns more for the spinners and there is consistent bounce,” he had said after India had wrapped up the series in Kolkata.

The West Indians, meanwhile, will be definitely hoping that they don't get a repeat of what was offered to them nine years ago, when they came touring these parts. The spinners-Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble-shared 15 wickets amongst them, handing the men from the Caribbean a whopping innings and 112-run hammering.

Naik believes the West Indian pacemen will like bowling on the Wankhede wicket, but he also ensures that Dhoni will have no complaints about what is dished out for the third Test. “The spinners will get consistent bounce, and there will be a lot of turn on offer later on,” he says.

Apart from the wicket, Naik insists that the rest of the stadium too looks in ‘tip-top' condition, and that it is ready to regain its standing among the most glorious venues for Test cricket in the world. What will also surely help matters, despite the overkill, is the anticipation of a home boy's 100th century. “If he stays at the wicket for half an hour,” he says, “I am sure he will get it here.”

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