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Eden bathes twice to beat sunbath

The Eden Gardens is getting showers every day when the rest of sun-roasted Calcutta hasn’t had a drop of rain in 10 days.

Watering a pitch at its preparation stage is routine but this has turned into an event as groundsmen battle to protect Eden’s 22 yards from cracking up in the near-40° Celsius swelter of the past few days.

The maximum temperature on Thursday was 39.8° Celsius, five degrees above normal, while relative humidity oscillated between a chafing 27 per cent and a soaking 85.

The city weathered a rainless April but respite fell from the sky in the first weekend of May and continued till the first Monday of the month. Since then, the sun has been beating down untroubled.

Weather conditions have forced the Eden groundsmen to hose the pitch as well as the greens twice a day for an hour each, ensuring that the ground remains hydrated in the searing mid-May heat.

The pitch would turn bone dry unless there is adequate moisture under its surface.

“The extreme heat has made things difficult for us,” curator Prabir Mukherjee told Metro.

“This IPL season, we aim to prepare a firm wicket with even bounce. So it is vital to maintain the perfect moisture content. In this heat, the rate of evaporation has been extremely high.”

A firm wicket with even bounce has been an Eden-phile’s unfulfilled dream over the past IPL seasons.

Spinners in the Kolkata Knight Riders line-up, especially Sunil Narine, had utilised the conditions to the fullest and teams found it difficult to score even 140 in Calcutta the past two IPLs.

It is not clear if Gautam Gambhir had spoken to Eden’s pitch curator about the conditions but Mukherjee made it clear that he had promised the captain “a good pitch”.

His promise is open to interpretations, though.

A batsman-friendly wicket, according to former India opener Devang Gandhi, is hard and has a sprinkling of dry grass that holds the soil together to ensure uniform pace and bounce. Water holds the key in maintaining that tinge of green on the pitch.

For a turner of a pitch, the surface has to remain dry and crack quickly. “The ball grips the wicket, comes to the bat slowly and the keeps low… making stroke-play difficult,” Gandhi said.

Pitches are generally watered once a day on summer afternoons for 20 to 25 minutes.

This summer has been different. “The pitch is covered with a special Hessian cloth in the afternoon and at night to reduce water loss,” said a member of the ground staff.

“The pitches get a heavy water bath so that some of it creeps up from the surface below the next morning. Unless that happens, it gets difficult to run a roller.”

The Eden pitch has soil that allows natural growth of grass but adequate water is needed to maintain the soil’s pH balance.

Experts said an altered pH level could reduce or increase soil acidity and alkalinity, thereby affecting the grass.

Every morning, the curator ensures that the water holes skirting the ground are connected to the mains and when these are switched on, the greens are adequately watered.

Of the three pitches prepared this year, one would host KKR’s first home match on May 20 against Chennai Super Kings.

Mukherjee said all three pitches were given equal attention as three men from the 14-man platoon of ground staff take turns to water the playing area every afternoon. “Even the practice pitches are not spared. Long hoses are used to sprinkle water after removing the covers.”

“Besides the existing crop, we have hired around 25 gardeners to prepare the ground for the knights,” said Biswarup Dey, treasurer, the Cricket Association of Bengal.

“The curator spends hours on the ground every morning and evening.”