India-New Zealand World Cup semifinal hit by 'pitch switch' controversy

Media reports sparked concerns about India trying to manipulate conditions in their favour. But the ICC insisted there was nothing untoward with the change in pitch

By AFP

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India captain Rohit Sharma (right) and head coach Rahul Dravid inspect the pitch before the start of the World Cup semifinal against New Zealand. — AFP
India captain Rohit Sharma (right) and head coach Rahul Dravid inspect the pitch before the start of the World Cup semifinal against New Zealand. — AFP

Published: Wed 15 Nov 2023, 4:46 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 Nov 2023, 10:58 AM

The World Cup semifinal between India and New Zealand in Mumbai on Wednesday was being played on a used pitch, sparking concerns the tournament hosts had tried to manipulate conditions in their favour.

Both Britain's Daily Mail and the ESPNCricinfo website reported the match was initially supposed to be played on pitch seven, the central strip at the Wankhede Stadium, a surface unused in the group stages.

However, the game was switched to pitch six, the surface used for South Africa's 229-run win over England on October 21, and India's 302-run victory over Sri Lanka on November 2.

According to the International Cricket Council's tournament playing conditions, the relevant ground authority -- in this case the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) - "is responsible for the selection and preparation of the pitch" before any given match".

The Daily Mail claimed the ICC's independent pitch consultant Andy Atkinson was frustrated by changes to pre-tournament plans.

They quoted a leaked email in which he speculated whether the pitch for Sunday's final in Ahmedabad "will be the first ever ICC CWC final to have a pitch which has been specifically chosen and prepared to their stipulation at the request of the team management and/or the hierarchy of the home nation board".

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, speaking after India skipper Rohit Sharma won the toss and elected to bat on Wednesday, said: "It's obviously a used surface but we'll try to make use of it with the ball first up and hopefully there's some dew later."

Used pitches generally aid spinners, which could be a boon to an India side that has Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav as two of its frontline bowlers.

The semifinals of the 2019 World Cup in England were played on fresh pitches, but used strips were provided for the semifinals of last year's T20 World Cup in Australia.

On Wednesday, the ICC insisted there was nothing untoward with the change in pitch at the Wankhede.

"Changes to planned pitch rotations are common towards the end of an event of this length, and has already happened a couple of times," said a spokesperson.

"This change was made on the recommendation of the venue curator in conjunction with our host.

"The ICC independent pitch consultant was apprised of the change and has no reason to believe the pitch won't play well."

The winners of Wednesday's match will face either Australia or South Africa, who play in Kolkata on Thursday, in the final.

Australia captain Pat Cummins said Wednesday he had confidence in the integrity of the ICC's pitch process.

"Yeah, I saw that (the report)...obviously ICC have an independent pitch curator who manages that so I'm sure they are all over making sure it's fair for both teams," Cummins said.

"So far this tournament (on pitches) that we've played on I've not seen any issue."

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