Dharamshala’s Outfield Issues: A Spanner in England’s World Cup Preparations
The mesmerising Himalayan backdrop of Dharamshala’s stadium is juxtaposed with its now notoriously problematic outfield. As England gears up for the much-anticipated World Cup face-off against Bangladesh, the fitness of one of their mainstays, Ben Stokes, remains under the scanner, compounded by concerns about the playing surface.
Stokes’ Recovery: A Waiting Game
Although Stokes, aged 32, missed England’s initial setback against New Zealand due to a hip injury, hopes were high for his return against Bangladesh. Recent signs, however, aren’t promising. After a hiatus of 10 days due to the injury, Stokes partook in some light running and had a gentle net session this Sunday in Dharamshala. But his evident discomfort, coupled with the stadium’s outfield condition, could make the decision of his return a conservative one.
The inherent risk is underscored by Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott’s criticism of the same surface. His concerns arose after spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman’s knee became entrenched in the turf during an awkward slide in their game against Bangladesh. “Mujeeb’s close shave with a significant knee injury was a stroke of luck,” remarked Trott, the erstwhile England batter.
The Outfield Conundrum
While Dharamshala boasts scenic beauty, its outfield’s consistency has raised eyebrows and concerns alike. The ground was previously in the limelight this February when the third Test between India and Australia was relocated to Indore, citing outfield apprehensions.
Chris Tetley, the International Cricket Council’s head of events, and pitch consultant Andy Atkinson, in tandem with the ground staff, made an evaluative visit on Sunday. The ground, dotted with sandy patches, didn’t witness much action from England, who opted for the nets. However, the discussions within the team management centred around this issue, possibly cautioning players against slides to preclude injuries.
Offering a formal standpoint, an ICC spokesperson stated, “The onus of assessing the pitch and outfield rests with match officials. Post the Afghanistan vs Bangladesh match, Dharamshala’s outfield received an ‘average’ rating. Additionally, our independent pitch consultant examined the outfield today and, along with match referee Javagal Srinath, found the conditions agreeable.”
A Delicate Balancing Act
Jonny Bairstow, an integral part of England’s batting lineup, weighed in on the situation. “Treading cautiously and smartly is crucial. The worst-case scenario is multiple players sidelined with injuries,” he noted. Emphasising the challenges of instinctive play, he added, “Diving to stop the ball is second nature. We might need to recalibrate our instincts and adopt clever manoeuvres.”
Given Stokes’ recurring ailments — notably his knee — and the surface concerns, the upcoming fixture against Afghanistan seems a more plausible juncture for his comeback.
England’s initial stumble against New Zealand has only amplified the stakes for the match against Bangladesh. With their net run-rate positioning them at the bottom, the reigning champions are under pressure to ascend the rankings, ensuring a spot in the semi-finals.
Their narrow triumph over Bangladesh in a pre-tournament friendly might offer some solace. Yet, the larger conundrums of Stokes’ fitness and the ground’s reliability loom large.