Pune Pitch ‘Sting Operation’ All Noise, No Substance: Amrit Mathur

The only concrete takeaway from the entire fiasco is the learnings for the BCCI from the ‘sting operation’ 

4 min read
A TV sting operation caught the Pune pitch curator claiming that he could affect the outcome of the second ODI between India and New Zealand by tweaking the pitch

The Pune cricket sting targeting curator Pandurang Salgaonkar sparked screaming headlines and sansani breaking news. However, once the noise subsided and noble press statements were issued about 'zero tolerance' for corruption, the facts suggested not much had actually happened.

Of course, all manner of questions hang in the air, but no 'crime' was committed. Was there a security lapse? If so, was this Anti Corruption Territory or does the blame lie elsewhere? Also, what should be done in the future to maintain the integrity of the sport?

First, the facts.

The curator gave some people access to the dressing rooms and the main pitch, and agreed to doctor the track to suit/favour others. The ground reality at any match is, lots and lots of people have legitimate access to the playing area and pitch (including ground staff and the television production team) before the game. If some 'tourists' were given a conducted tour of the middle and a closer look at the surfaces by the curator, it is a misdemeanour.

Also Read: BCCI Suspends Pune Pitch Curator but ODI Goes Ahead as Scheduled

It's important to understand the official protocol too. Clearly, when it comes to pitch preparation, the local venue curator (or the BCCI nominated person) is the boss – he 'makes' the pitch. He has full control and takes a call on its watering/rolling/grass cover. All this till the toss, 30 minutes before start of play when, formally, the pitch is 'taken over' by the umpires and the match referee. If someone walked on the chosen surface in Pune or danced on it a day before the game, it's no crime, just bad form.

Similarly, every curator before every match speaks (formally or informally) to media persons about the pitch. Pick up any pre match press report – all of them will have detailed information about the track. So, this is hardly a case of a serious 'breach' of sharing information, or official secrets being revealed.

Read: Advent of Pitch Curators & The Role They Play in Modern Cricket

But, Salgaonkar Did Cross The Line

One, he made foolish boasts about the Pune track. Describing the wicket as a '337 run pitch' is a completely ridiculous claim. There is no science, magic, or supernatural intelligence that allows such facile assessments. Cricket pitches are more difficult to call than monsoons and elections; every student of cricket knows this. Certainly this is something a curator of Salgaonkar's experience could not be ignorant about.

Two, equally silly was the assertion that he could 'produce' a track to suit or favour someone. Again, such skill/expertise does not exist and there is no computer that can decide pitch behaviour. Cricket wisdom says pitches have a set DNA (dictated by soil, weather, climate, humidity, temperature, quality of grass, and many other factors) and each has a unique 'character'.

No curator can customise a pitch or alter its inherent nature except in a very marginal manner. It seems Salgaonkar was in ‘feku’ mode, trying to impress his audience about his ability – an ordinary person wanting to be ‘shaktimaan’ or superman.

But yes, Salgaonkar’s major mistake is he agreed to manipulating the pitch (even if he couldn’t actually succeed!) to favour someone. This willingness to compromise, and the intent to put an outside interest ahead of what should only be cricket related, is disturbing.
MS Dhoni and coach Ravi Shastri inspect the pitch on the eve of the Pune ODI. <i>(Photo: IANS)</i>
MS Dhoni and coach Ravi Shastri inspect the pitch on the eve of the Pune ODI. (Photo: IANS)

Can’t Always Blame BCCI

To expect the BCCI's Anti Corruption Unit to be on top of this game is an unrealistic hope. Led by Neeraj Kumar, the respected former Delhi Commissioner Police, it's a three-member team which is short of resources and authority. Recently, this very team did commendable work in shutting down rogue state-level premier leagues and people were arrested in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh on charges of fixing matches.

But Neeraj's ACU unit does not have the bandwidth to monitor everyone, nor the policing/investigating powers which vest with crime prevention agencies. If the ACU discovers or stumbles upon information that a curator – or umpire – is a suspect, they can only raise a red flag and go running to the police seeking help.

Even with limited resources, the ACU plays a crucial role. Before the start of every season, they meet all state association players to educate them about anti-corruption measures and explain to them the processes and protocols in place. Locally-appointed anti-corruption officers are present at all BCCI matches to ensure that the players’ area is sanitised and only duly accredited persons have access to the ground and dressing rooms.

In Pune, apparently there was a security lapse which allowed unauthorised people into areas which should have been out of bounds for them. As security is linked to accreditation, this responsibility lies with the local authorities conducting the match.


Lessons for the Future

  1. Accreditation must be taken seriously and handled with greater discretion, not handed out indiscriminately, sometimes even to wives and children.
  2. There should be a mandatory background check of officials in sensitive roles who could be compromised. And, as in the case of players, these persons should also be sensitised and educated.
  3. Cricket officials must be covered under a Code of Conduct just as players are with clear clauses listing do's and dont's and laying down expected level of behaviour.

Whatever happens, corruption in some form or the other will exist and not disappear. Take the case of Pakistan, for instance, where it's captain Salman Butt and star bowler Mohammad Aamir spent time in jail on spot fixing charges. Despite that, their current captain Sarfraz was approached by a bookie the other day. But this time, wiser from experience and past history, Sarfraz spotted the wrong and alerted authorities.

This, in a way, confirms that cricket is about playing with a straight bat but one must always watch out for no balls!


(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and Manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at@AmritMathur1)

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