Pune: The Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium’s pitch in Gahunje here is slowly gaining a reputation of being pacer-friendly.
The recent India versus Sri Lanka T20 International here prompted Mahendra Singh Dhoni to call the wicket, ‘a bit English’.
The man behind shaping its identity is Maharashtra’s speed demon of 1970s, Pandurang Salgaoncar. “I was always eager to coach fast bowlers after I left competitive cricket, but perhaps, I was not wanted. Preparing pitches was my other passion. So, this is an indirect channel that I have chosen to encourage fast bowlers. I have travelled all over Maharashtra to prepare wickets,” the 66-year-old said.
“There is no encouragement for pace bowlers in India. If we don’t provide seaming conditions, how are we going to produce genuine fast bowlers? There is no motivation left for them. We only see spinners dominating these days,” he added while watching the proceedings in the Mumbai vs Saurashtra Ranji Trophy final.
With curators in India being put under intense pressure to prepare a particular type of wicket, Salgaoncar said these ‘pressures’ have not reached him. “My aim is to make a sporting wicket. Preparing good wickets will develop Indian cricket. Had they applied themselves better in the T20 International against Sri Lanka, it would have been a good contest,” he said. That Salgaoncar hit the legendary Sunil Gavaskar on his finger during a Ranji Trophy match between Maharashtra and Mumbai in Nashik during the 1974-75 season, forcing the Little Master to miss Test matches against the West Indies is now part of Indian cricket’s folklore.
Back in 1974
He terrorised batsmen with sheer pace to such an extent that he was once asked to stop bowling during a tour game in Sri Lanka in 1974. Not getting an India Test cap still rankles. “Those who could bat against me were considered India material. But the one bowling to them was never considered good to play for India. At one point it became obvious that they (selectors) chose not to pick me. I never went behind them asking for a reason. I knew I deserved to play for the country,” said Salgaoncar. Since then Salgaoncar has been busy making pitches. “I work 365 days a year,” he said. This has not gone down well with his wife. Asked about how he manages to prepare bowler-friendly tracks, Salgaonkar explained: “The water content below facilitates the growth of grass and there is always moisture here. That’s why you will never get a dry wicket here. The soil that we use plays an important role.”
Pandurang Salgaoncar in the 1970s. Pic/Mid-day archives