The first semifinal between India and New Zealand in the 2023 ODI World Cup, which is underway at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, is in the limelight already for reports of a pitch-switch hours ahead of the match.
According to a report in Daily Mail, the International Cricket Council (ICC) pitch consultant Andy Atkinson had initially selected an unused surface from the numerous pitches at Wankhede Stadium, following the norms and in agreement with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The match was supposed to be played on pitch no. 7, the central strip which was not used in the league stage, according to ESPNcricinfo. But, it was changed to pitch no. 6, which had hosted the South Africa-England game on October 21 and the India-Sri Lanka match on November 2.
The Daily Mail report claimed that the switch to the used and slower pitch was done to favour the Indian spinners. It said that Atkinson was told an unspecified problem with the initially selected pitch led to the switch.
The report also said that Atkinson wrote an e-mail to the ICC after three matches post the opener between England and New Zealand in Ahmedabad, were not played on selected surfaces. "… one must speculate if this will be the first ever (World Cup) final to have a pitch which has been specifically chosen and prepared to their stipulation at the request of the team management and/or the hierarchy of the home nation board,” Atkinson wrote in the mail. “Or will it be selected or prepared without favouritism for either of the sides competing in the match in the usual manner, and unquestionably because it is the usual pitch for the occasion?"
What does the ICC have to say?
Shortly after the India vs New Zealand semifinal started, ICC released a statement saying the pitch-switch was not unusual. “Changes to planned pitch rotations are common towards the end of an event of this length, and has already happened a couple of times. 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.”
What does the rule say?
According to the ICC's Playing Conditions for the 2023 ODI World Cup, the host association - in this case, the Mumbai Cricket Association - is "responsible for the selection and preparation of the pitch" before any match. There is no requirement that a knockout fixture must be played on fresh pitches.
Incidentally, the Eden Gardens pitch for the second semifinal, too, is a used one and hosted the England-Pakistan league stage match.
As per the Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process: "It is expected that venues that are allocated the responsibility of hosting a match will present the best possible pitch and outfield conditions for that match."
The New Zealand team inspected the pitch on the eve of the semifinal match against India, and did not file any official complaint about the pitch-switch.