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Daljit Singh breaks silence on Kotla fiasco

Daljit Singh breaks silence on Kotla fiasco

Sports Editor Gaurav Kalra spoke to Daljit Singh in a CNN-IBN exclusive.

New Delhi: The power house of world cricket had to suffer the disgrace of a cancelled match because the pitch in the Capital's only stadium was so poor that it was considered 'too dangerous' to play on.

The man who is being blamed for this fiasco, Daljit Singh, breaks his silence for the first time exclusively on CNN-IBN. Sports Editor Gaurav Kalra spoke to him.

CNN-IBN: Daljit Singh has been considered to be the fall guy after the debacle at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Has the experience been the hardest in all the years you have been a curator?

Daljit Singh: Sad in certain ways that the match was abandoned. All the people who braved the weather to buy tickets and had come to the stadium, they were deprived of a good game of cricket. Sad that the BCCI was put under a lot of pressure. They have been very kind to me. But overall, an abandoned international match does hurt.

CNN-IBN: You have been very gracious today, but are you hurt at the end of all of this? Are you really the one to blame?

Daljit Singh: To some extent. I will tell you where I am to blame. It's a collective work, a responsibility being shared. A certain association is staging a match, obviously they are the ones who are in the front. Then there are people who are helping people like me.

CNN-IBN: According to the DDCA, you are 100 per cent to blame. SP Bansal yesterday said, "The mistake we made was that we followed the BCCI's advice 100 per cent and we followed whatever Daljit Singh told us without batting an eyelid. We shouldn't have believed in him 100 per cent."
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Daljit Singh: I don't think we should play the blame game. But all I can say is that I have never worked with SP Bansal at all. The people I have worked with includes (DDCA curator, now sacked) Vijay Bahadur Mishra, who I know is going to become a fine curator one day. He is new and learning the ropes of preparing pitches.

CNN-IBN: On the morning of the game when you arrived at the Kotla, did you notice anything amiss, that we might be in for a disaster?

Daljit Singh: Not at all. If we had any inkling that this would happen, then we would have been doing something very different the previous two days while preparing the pitch.

CNN-IBN: According to you, where did you go wrong in the preparation that we ended up in a situation which has caused much embarrassment around the country?

Daljit Singh: The wicket was relaid in the summer, and because the IPL was shifted to South Africa, the DDCA people were kind enough to call me and said they wanted to relay the wicket, and have a bouncy wicket in time to come for the World Cup. Then the wicket was relaid as per international standard. We brought in the Australian way of laying a wicket with proper drainage and everything.

But when the Champions League T20 came, which nobody thought would come about so early in the season, the wickets were not really ready because of late rains or excessive rains. When we played those matches they were low and slow pitches, which was expected.

Then came the India-Australia one-dayer, where again the wicket was bald and slow. Then there was quite a few weeks' gap between the ODI against Australia and the ODI against Sri Lanka. The DDCA authorities called me again and asked if we could improve upon this.

CNN-IBN: It is learnt that you were worried about the pitch right after the Champions League. You had warned that this wicket needed work before international cricket could be staged here.

Daljit Singh: No. I didn't say anything like that. I think it was mentioned in an ICC inspection report. I am not at war with the DDCA authorities, they are all my friends. They are very good people to work with.
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CNN-IBN: Why is it that you went in to this with the thought of being a team of experts. Why not at least play a game on the surface, see that it's fine, see if it's fit for international cricket and then allow a match. Why didn't you play a practice match?

Daljit Singh: That is one mistake the DDCA and I must own up to. We made the cardinal mistake of not playing a practice match or at least have a bowling trial, thinking that these wickets have been played upon recently for the Champions League and the ODI against Australia. We took it for granted, not realising that the surface had been disturbed.

CNN-IBN: Did you suggest it (to play a practice match)?

Daljit Singh: I suggested a bowling session. I didn't suggest a trial match because I came in late. I definitely suggested a bowling session, which would have at least given us an inkling of what was to come. We could have taken some remedial measure to what was going to happen.

CNN-IBN: Apparently there are two wickets on that square which were thought of for the one-day game. You wanted the game to be played on the other surface. But the story goes that a senior DDCA official - claimed to be Chetan Chauhan - asked you to actually move the match to the adjoining pitch. You were opposed to this. Is this correct?

Daljit Singh: Not true. In my job over the years I have realised this that it is the staging authority's prerogative to where and what they want to do: where the pitch is going to be, where the long room should be, the VIP room should be. It's their business.

On the two pitches that were being readied on 24th (December) they bowled a few balls in the presence of Chetan Chauhan, I was there, Vijay Bahadur Mishra and others were also there. They bowled a few balls and decided that we would play on this pitch. I said all right, as it was their decision. I never stopped them from playing on either pitch.

CNN-IBN: There is a theory doing the rounds about the various kinds of grass. There is something called winter grass, which was planted on the wicket. It was rolled, and suddenly turned into some kind of brown grass, and Sunil Gavaskar called it as a 'hair transplant pitch'.

Daljit Singh: I did not hear Gavaskar's report. The winter grass is a one-root grass, which is one plant. The other grass which was also planted, which is the local grass, is a different form of grass, in which one plant has more than 10 roots. They are two different varieties altogether.
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CNN-IBN: Was there a mistake made (to use two varieties of grass)?

Daljit Singh: No. Similar things have been done abroad. Between winter and spring they mingle two grasses and while one dies, the other takes over. This was being done for the first time here. What happened frankly was while planting the local grass the surface definitely got disturbed. That should have been properly tested before playing a game on it. That's the only mistake.

CNN-IBN: What everyone wants to know is how difficult is it to make pitches. Cricket has been played in India for years and four World Cup matches are scheduled. Should the system not have been more careful of loss of face in a situation of this kind? They could have said they are not ready and could have asked the game to be staged elsewhere. There was time for that.

Daljit Singh: In hindsight, it was for the hosting association to realise that our wickets were not playing very well, and we definitely needed another season for them to play well. As it is, these wickets were relaid. In my knowledge when they discuss with me, with the World Cup in mind. This year, everybody had to bear with it. Every wicket does not have to be the stereotype, batting paradise.

CNN-IBN: There have only been two matches earlier which were cancelled because pitches were deemed too dangerous to play on - one in 1997 in Indore and the other earlier this year in Antigua. Were the teams correct in telling the match referee that they didn't want to go on. The match referee's statement says that 'the wicket is unfit' - the last possible category in the ICC's report.

Daljit Singh: He is a very respected international match referee, so one has to be very careful choosing one's words. But as a curator sitting outside and seeing a lot of cricket on the TV all over the world, it wasn't the worst wicket in the world.

CNN-IBN: Could the game have gone on?

Daljit Singh: I wasn't so dangerous that people were getting badly hurt or was putting the batsmen's life in danger. It wasn't the best of pitches, but when cricket is being played on shirtfront wickets all over the world, there isn't a problem.

CNN-IBN: Did the players run away from the challenge?

Daljit Singh: Let's not blame the players. They are at the end of a tough series, of a season, there is another tour coming ahead. The series was already over as far as the result is concerned. So let's not play the blame game at all.
But in the overall scenario with 50,000 people watching, the game should have gone on. We were already into the 24th over and it was a matter of time when the change bowlers came on. The worst was already over. It was sad that the match was called off.
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CNN-IBN: There has been an allegation that your interest in coming to the DDCA has been financial in some ways, the reason why the DDCA is upset with you.

Daljit Singh: You must check with the DDCA also. I have not taken any money from them for doing the job. I started coming in April and then I have been dealing with Sunil Dev. When we visit any association representing the BCCI, we get a daily allowance, and a certain amount to look after your accommodation, transportation and food.

I told him that having been an ex-DDCA player, they need not give me that money. When in the city I have travelled on my own and stayed at my own arrangements. I only asked them to pay me for my travel from Chandigarh and back.

CNN-IBN: Are you disappointed that the BCCI chose to sack you?

Daljit Singh: They had to take some action. Since I happened to be on the spot, they had to take some action. But we must look at the remedial measures too, which are not difficult at all.

CNN-IBN: Can the World Cup take place in Delhi?

Daljit Singh: Absolutely. You'll find that the Kotla will have good wickets even in the IPL and after the next monsoon, it will have one of the better wickets in the country.

CNN-IBN: Are you done being a curator in India?

Daljit Singh: Not at all. It's very enjoyable. I have enjoyed, learnt, contributed. I will be foolish to go and sulk. If people want my services, money or no money, I will go anywhere.
first published:December 29, 2009, 19:04 IST