On the eve of the South Africa-Netherlands World Cup game, the hill town witnessed rain throughout the day, starting early in the morning. The surrounding mountains had their first snowfall of the season and as a result, Dharamsala saw heavy showers from well before dawn. Not a ray of sunshine graced the HPCA Stadium throughout the day and the groundstaff were hard at work with super-soppers. It remains to be seen how an already ‘average’ outfield fares during Tuesday’s match.
“Kya lagta hai sir, match hoga kya?” A CID official tasked with the security of the venue can’t resist asking if the game is under threat. It may take the investigation resources and nuance of the agency to find an answer to the question.
However, the host association expressed confidence that their was no threat to the fixture.
“The prediction for the next games is fine and we are fully equipped for them,” Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) secretary Avnish Parmar told The Indian Express.
But he did admit that the venue had been in a race against time to get ready for the marquee event.
“Our plans were formulated keeping in mind normal weather conditions in Dharamsala, but this year the monsoon and winter has prolonged which has affected ground preparation.”
The venue, which has hosted two World Cup games so far, is marked to host three more including the India-New Zealand match this Sunday. When asked if there are any contingencies in place to move the matches elsewhere, Parmar reiterates, “There is no such concern as all World Cup matches are on schedule and we are fully prepared.”
However, with rain making the patchy outfield even muddier, the issue has been flagged by the two teams scheduled to play on Tuesday.
“Yeah, it looks a bit touchy. When we practised last night, it didn’t affect us so much. I don’t know if it’s easy to change your diving technique as a result in the heat of the moment (during the game). Guys will have to put a bit more attention to it,” South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma said on Monday.
Netherlands head coach Ryan Cook weighed in on a lighter note. “I’ll speak about the outfield with a bit of glee because this is probably better than most of the outfields we play in any way.”
It’s not the first time that players and coaches have critiqued the Dharamsala surface during the tournament. Afghanistan head coach Jonathan Trott had claimed their spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman was extremely lucky to escape injury following a dive in the deep that saw his knee getting stuck in the turf.
England skipper Jos Buttler had termed the outfield ‘poor’ and something that went ‘against everything you want to be as a team’.
There’d been heavy showers on the night before the England-Bangladesh game when the ICC had termed the outfield ‘average’; however, a clear sky and sunshine saved the day. Whether or not South Africa and Netherlands enjoy similar luck remains to be seen.
“Ground maintenance is a continuous process and conditions here improve each day when the sun comes out, and should improve further as per the forecast,” adds Parmar.