KKR, DC, now MI: In the home-away format of the IPL, are local pitch makers providing enough home advantage to the host teams?

Neutral curators are at loggerheads with franchise management and players over BCCI giving instructions to domestic associations about pitches.

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Rishabh Pant (captain) of Delhi Capitals examines the pitch before the start of the 20th match of the Indian Premier League Season 17 (IPL 2024) between Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai on April 7, 2024.
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The other night, as Sunrisers Hyderabad were on the verge of another win away from home, former India captain Sunil Gavaskar reflected on whether better days are in store for the team in the second half of the season. This is based on the fact that SRH have to play five of their remaining seven league games at their home ground. “It’s always good to play at home. You are more familiar with the circumstances. You can ask the groundsman to prepare a pitch that suits you. SRH, if they score more than 250, they will win,” Gavaskar said.

But does IPL give teams home advantage? “The franchise has nothing to say about the wicket. This is a clear instruction given to us by the BCCI,” Eden Gardens pitch curator Sujan Mukherjee told The Indian Express.

Mukherjee’s stance on the matter came to light last year when Nitish Rana criticized the Eden surface by saying that every team in the IPL ‘except KKR’ enjoys home conditions. Rana is not alone. “For me, it doesn’t matter whether they are happy, not happy or very happy. IPL is not played on the basis of home advantage and the captain can say whatever he wants,” Mukherjee had said in response to the then KKR skipper. “Is there any provision in the IPL where it is written that the pitches should be constructed as per the wishes of the IPL franchises?”

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Since then, several other teams have criticized or expressed surprise regarding their home surface. For example, MI captain Hardik Pandya said after his team’s first game at the Wankhede Stadium, “The pitch was not what we expected.”

Having worked with the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) for almost 40 years, Mukherjee says that since the advent of the IPL, the wickets have been constructed as per the BCCI and not as per the respective franchises.

“The franchises have had no impact on the pitch since the first edition of the IPL. They only discuss with us about when they are going to practice on the field. Any captain, coach can come and see the wicket under our supervision, there is no problem in it,” he says.

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An opposite grass Kotla pitch was offered in the first game of IPL 2024 in Delhi
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However, KKR is not the only franchise to follow the above rule. Delhi Capitals’ home record is the worst among all the current franchises. Ahead of his first IPL 2024 game in Delhi last night, veteran fast bowler Ishant Sharma had expressed an air of uncertainty around the pitch. “We have to see the pitch here and then adapt to the conditions.”

An official of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) explains the reason behind this. “Our parent organization is BCCI. We are their curators. What do we have to do with anyone else? We cannot go ahead of BCCI and make the pitch on our own or on the instructions of the franchise.

What/who drives change?

Last year, the Kotla track had come into controversy when the then DC assistant coach Shane Watson had examined it due to lack of grass. He lamented, “Next season, hopefully the conditions will be more suitable for our team. There will be more realistic batting surfaces.”

At that time, the denial given by the home association was, “The wicket was more difficult in the 2019 season. If you look at the average marks that year, they were around 135-140.

It cannot be a coincidence that 465 runs were scored in the first game at the Arun Jaitley Stadium this season and there was more grass on the contrary. So what changed this year? “(Last year) there was an absence of grass due to the extreme heat during the summer.” It is likely to remain in better shape this year as DC is scheduled to play fewer matches in the scorching national capital.

Was the decision to add more greenery in any way influenced by the displeasure of the home franchise last season? “No, we are neutral. The changes that occur depend on the consequences that occur on these surfaces. Weather varies in many places, so that also plays a role,” replied the DDCA official.

Mukherjee says that while making the pitch, more fans and spectators are kept in mind than the franchise. “When the T20 culture came to India with the IPL, the buzz at that time was that it should be played on good wickets. Ultimately, it’s for the fans. The general consensus was that it should be a good wicket so that both batsmen and bowlers can perform well and the spectators can enjoy an even game. If that happens, more spectators will come and watch the game.”

Exception, more successful?

Five-time winners, Chennai Super Kings are among the teams that have enjoyed home comforts right from the start. Due to the franchise’s close ties with state association TNCA, he has mostly got pitches to his liking. In 2019, when MS Dhoni was unhappy with the slow nature of the pitch, the state association relayed the entire ground. For a site where the material was mostly red soil, there are now also pitches of black soil.

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Chennai Super Kings is among the teams that have enjoyed home comforts since the beginning
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But that hasn’t stopped CSK from getting the best conditions to suit their needs. This means, the franchise has been able to field a team in the auction that is best suited to the conditions at Chepauk. That’s why CSK’s win percentage at Chepauk is over 70 – the highest for any IPL franchise at home.

While they traditionally prefer pitches where totals are 160-180 with good support for the spinners, CSK have moved away from the plan since last season.

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With the impact player rule in the game and the need for extra runs, he has alternated between flat decks and slower surfaces depending on the opposition. This season, after playing on a flat deck against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Gujarat Titans, they came up with a slow pitch against Kolkata Knight Riders, a team that has a lot of power-hitters.

The question arises whether teams should get home advantage in a tournament with a clear home and away format of league games? The remarkable turnaround in SRH’s batting could only benefit more from a home surface that suits the needs of their batsmen. Or as Gavaskar said last night, “If they score more than 250, they will win.”

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