Was the pitch 'changed' for Cricket World Cup semi-final and what are the rules?

India defeated New Zealand in a high-scoring match in Mumbai on Wednesday

India captain Rohit Sharma inspects the pitch ahead of the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

The Cricket World Cup semi-final between India and New Zealand was memorable in more ways than one.

Virat Kohli scored his 50th ODI century, Mohammad Shami picked up seven wickets, more than 700 runs were scored, and the hosts stormed into the final following a 70-run win at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.

But there was another development that grabbed the headlines. And it threatens to cast a shadow over the knockout stages of the tournament.

Ahead of the semi-final in Mumbai, it emerged that the playing surface had been 'switched' to a used pitch, instead of a fresh one.

Apparently, a fresh centre pitch was to be deployed for the knockout game but the match was moved to a surface that had been utilised earlier in the tournament.

This led to a furore as it was seen as a ploy by hosts India to gain an advantage by playing on a worn-out pitch. A fresh surface at the Wankhede could have helped New Zealand as it provides the most assistance to fast bowlers in the country, especially under lights.

What are the rules regarding pitches?

The ICC's tournament guide for the World Cup states that "the Ground Authority shall be responsible for the selection and preparation of the pitch".

That means the Mumbai Cricket Association had the primary responsibility of preparing the surface, and ensuring it was up to standards for an international match.

What caused controversy is a supposed leaked email from the ICC's independent pitch curator who expressed frustration at the late change of pitch.

However, the ICC issued a statement saying that changing pitches is common practice and that all relevant authorities were aware of it.

"Changes to planned pitch rotations are common towards the end of an event of this length, and has already happened a couple of times," an ICC spokesperson said.

"This change was made on the recommendation of the venue curator in conjunction with our host. The ICC independent pitch consultant was apprised of the change and has no reason to believe the pitch won't play well."

As it turned out, the pitch produced a high-scoring match where more than 700 runs were scored, pacer Shami picked up a seven-wicket haul and three centuries were hit.

Since there is no stipulation on providing a fresh surface for knockout matches, there is a chance of a 'used' wicket being chosen for the final in Ahmedabad on Sunday as well.

According to ESPNCricinfo, the semi-finals of the last ODI World Cup in 2019 in England were played on fresh wickets.

What do the players say?

Former England captain Michael Vaughan said having fresh surfaces in a knockout match should be the standard practice.

"A World Cup semi should be played on a fresh pitch ... It’s as simple as that," he posted on X, formerly Twitter.

His sentiment was echoed by former Australia batsman Darren Lehmann.

Australia captain Pat Cummins, however, said he had faith in ICC's pitch preparation process.

"Yeah, I saw that [pitch selection report] ... obviously ICC have an independent pitch curator who manages that so I'm sure they are all over making sure it's fair for both teams," Cummins said.

"So far this tournament [on pitches] that we've played on, I've not seen any issue."

Updated: November 16, 2023, 10:22 AM