MUMBAI: The Cricket World Cup has been plunged into an astonishing row amid claims the Indian board has switched the pitch for their team’s semi-final on Wednesday (today) against New Zealand in Mumbai without the ICC’s permission.
And they could do the same if India reach Sunday’s final in Ahmedabad, where three of the four group games have been played on different surfaces from those on the schedule.
Pitches at ICC events are prepared under the supervision of the governing body’s consultant, Andy Atkinson, who agrees in advance with the home board which of the numbered strips on the square will be used for each game.
But Daily Mail has learned that the agreement has been ignored as the tournament reaches its climax, with the semi-final set to take place on a pitch that has already been used twice – potentially assisting India’s world-class spinners as they seek to reach their first 50-over World Cup final since 2011.
The pitch for Wednesday’s game at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium was supposed to be No 7, an entirely fresh surface unused for any of the venue’s four group matches. But a WhatsApp message circulated on Tuesday to a group of more than 50 BCCI and ICC officials confirmed that the first semi-final had been moved to pitch No 6, which has already staged games between England and South Africa, plus India and Sri Lanka.
Atkinson is understood to have been told there is an unspecified problem with pitch No 7 – an opinion he is thought not to share.
It follows concerns that plans for the final at Narendra Modi Stadium on Sunday, where India or New Zealand will meet Australia or South Africa, who play in Kolkata on Thursday, may also be changed unilaterally.
Atkinson is understood to have grown frustrated at the lack of a straight answer about preparations for the final, which prompted him to fly to Ahmedabad last Friday.
And it has transpired that while the tournament’s opening game, between England and New Zealand, had taken place on the pre-agreed pitch No 6, none of the next three matches conformed to the schedule, with Atkinson claiming in an email to his bosses that the changes had been made ‘without proper notice or forewarning’.
The matter was complicated by the fact that he was told by the ICC’s senior events manager at the venue that the India v Pakistan game there on October 14 took place on pitch No 7, as per the schedule, when it actually took place on pitch No 5.
Atkinson’s recommendation is that the final, too, should be played on pitch No 5, which has been used only once, though he learned last week that pitch No 6 – which has been used twice – could get the nod, again bringing India’s spinners into play.
When he asked who authorised the various changes, the BCCI said it was the Gujarat Cricket Association, while the GCA claimed they had been acting under instructions from the BCCI, with the requests made directly by the Indian team management.
In his email, Atkinson warns: ‘As a result of these actions, one must speculate if this will be the first ever ICC CWC [cricket World Cup] 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.’
He added: ‘Or will it be selected or prepared without favouritism for either of the sides competing in the match in the usual manner, and unquestionably because it is the usual pitch for the occasion?’
A spokesperson for the BCCI said: ‘The ICC independent pitch consultant works with the host and venues on their proposed pitch allocations and this process is ongoing throughout an event of this length and nature.’