HAMPSHIRE groundsman Nigel Gray has had the Ageas Bowl Test wicket under covers – to keep the sun off!
The heatwave has given Gray an unusual problem but it makes a refreshing change to the rain that spoiled the Ageas Bowl’s first Test, against Sri Lanka in 2011.
“Preparations are going very well but the very warm weather means we’ve got the covers on because we don’t want the pitch to get overly dry," he said.
"Rather than keeping the rain off the covers are keeping the sun off!”
Gray is confident he will avoid the problems that afflicted Trent Bridge, where the first Test was marred by a lifeless wicket, the first in England to be rated ‘poor’ by the ICC.
“It will be a good international pitch with good pace and bounce,” said Gray, Hampshire’s groundsman for the last 24 years.
“We had an unfortunate pitch at Trent Bridge, the groundsman was doing his best but something didn’t go quite right.
"It will be more like the pitch [for the second Test] at Lord’s I hope.
“Traditionally our pitches have had good pace and carry and I’m expecting more of that, which will make for a good game.
“I know that England will want English conditions as much as possible so I’m aiming for a good balance, you want a bit of something for everyone.”
The wicket used for the Ageas Bowl's second Test is the same on which Chris Tremlett starred during the ground's inaugural five-dayer three years ago.
It was last used for a one-day international last season.
Preparation has been similar to that for an LV County Championship match.
“It’s fairly standard procedure and a known quantity from my point of view,” said Gray, who has few pre-match nerves.
“There’s a little extra pressure but not much. More eyes are watching it because it’s a televised international but we’ve had plenty of international cricket here.”
What is certain is that India will have a far better wicket to bat on than they had when they last played a first-class match at West End.
In July 2002, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid refused to bat against Hampshire when the ball started exploding off a length.
“That was a few years ago in our bedding-down period,” smiled Gray. “Getting pitches ready was much mrre difficult then than it is now.
"We dealt with that a long time ago.”