There has been a lot of debate about the pitch at the Wanderers which overshadowed some of the most courageous efforts by Indian batsmen. Three innings have been played on this track and to term it as dangerous makes no sense.
The third Test between South Africa and India have hogged all the headlines for the tricky nature of the pitch. It is the lively pitch that has turned a dead rubber into an electrifying encounter and put South Africa under fire in the fourth innings. With India standing a good chance of winning the game and ending the Test series on a high, the intensity is only on a rise.
When Virat Kohli won the toss and opted to bat first despite playing five seamers on this wicket, many questions were raised about his tactics. But with the game progressing, the air is getting clear now. The pitch was expected to get fast or remain the same, but it was never expected to get slower.
India were clearly not happy when players were taken off the field in the final session of Day 3 after Dean Elgar took a nasty blow on his grille. The pitch was misbehaving for a while now, but this incident triggered the umpires to take the players off the field and stop the play initially. India’s middle-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane played a match-turning knock of 48 on the same wicket in the third innings, he did take few blows but said that the wicket was challenging and not dangerous.
“You cannot call it a dangerous wicket just because Elgar got hit. Most of the batsmen got hit, then Amla got hit in the first innings, Vijay got hit. Pujara batted well in the first innings, Virat batted well, they got hit. We never complained about it being a dangerous wicket. We just said it is a challenging wicket. They prepared this wicket, we never told them to prepare a track like this. They prepared this wicket so we want to play,” Rahane said while making a strong point in the post-match press conference.
Let’s be clear on this, it’s an often scenario where India is criticised for preparing doctored pitches to suit their style of play, primarily spin. When South Africa lost the series in India back in 2015, India did prepare turners. So, it was pretty much clear that South Africa won’t shy from testing India’s Achilles heels and dish out a wicket with pace and bounce. These kinds of wickets were anticipated and by the looks of it, the Indian dugout is not surprised.
“We all knew that when we come to South Africa, we will get wickets like this. Because when we played in India, we prepared turners, so we knew that we’ll get wickets like this when we come here,” Rahane added.
If the match had to be called off, it should have been done long ago. It wasn’t all of a sudden that the balls were rising from a good length, there were enough signs on Day 1 as well. The first two innings were all about Kohli and Hashim Amla’s brilliance on a tricky pitch. It would be too harsh on the Indian cricket team if the match is not completed as they battled it out in two innings on the same wicket.
If one introspects closely, the delivery that hit Dean Elgar on the grille was a short-pitched one. Numerous television replays suggested that the ball was clearly pitched short or in the short of a length region. Going by the way this pitch has played so far, one would have expected the ball to rise that high. Of course, it bounced a bit higher than it would have had on a normal surface, but one just can’t deny the poor technique exhibited by the batsman.
Elgar did struggle to get going and never looked comfortable at the crease nor in the series. In saying so, the fact that the pitch was a minefield cannot be overlooked, but Elgar’s encounter was certainly a poor example to corroborate the belief. There was something happening every over, on every delivery. South Africa have opted for fast and bouncy wickets, and if a fast bowler of Bumrah’s calibre pitches it short, the ball will do something, irrespective of what day it is.
Testing but not dangerous
The most important aspect of this argument is the fact that a pitch just can’t be deemed dangerous after three innings have transpired. The final session of Day 3 is just too late to gauge if the surface is unsafe for the batsmen or not? Or even raising questions and concerns after a team has already batted out twice. Yes, matches have been called off due to the pitch being unsafe to consist a play in the past. The Feroz Shah Kotla ODI between India and Sri Lanka in 2009 is the latest example of an ODI being called off. But how early in the game did that happen?
When the Delhi ODI was abandoned because of ‘dangerous’ pitch, not even one half of the first innings was completed. Sri Lanka batted for 23.3 overs when the match officials took a call and decided the pitch had extreme bounce and was unsafe to hold any further play. 23.3 overs and here we are questioning after three innings of play and the fourth one being in progress.
When the iconic Test between England and West Indies got abandoned in Jamaica, 1998, it did raise a lot of eyebrows. But even that game was called off and ended in a draw after 10.1 overs when England were precariously placed at 17 for 3. Walsh and Ambrose were unplayable on that wicket and when Graham Thorpe took another nasty blow on his hand, the play had hardly reached an hour.
Michael Holding criticised this surface but made an interesting point. He emphasised that the play should have been called off when Murali Vijay took a severe blow on his hand. “Two out of 100 (is my rating for the pitch). It’s a s**t pitch. You can interpret that. They should have called it off when Vijay got hit. This is not a cricket pitch, this is dangerous. Call it off, forget it. You can’t play cricket on that. I have no idea what has gone wrong but I know it’s not a good cricket pitch. The last time I saw something like this, the match was abandoned – in Jamaica 1998, and it didn’t even last this long,” Holding was quoted by ESPNCricinfo.
The fate of this Test still remains uncertain. It is still anyone’s game and all three results are possible. Only time will reveal if this game will conclude a result or not? Of course, players safety is pivotal, and one can’t afford to compromise on that front. And one wouldn’t be wrong in saying that South Africa are getting what they asked for. But should a Test match be called off in the fourth innings still remains a moot question!
The nature of the pitch has not changed a lot over three days. Both the teams did have a tough time in confronting seam bowlers on this lively pitch. Although the game is expected to resume on Day 4, but umpires will be very alert and introspect the behaviour of the pitch closely. Also, one just can’t expect this surface to slow down, it will only get quicker as rightly anticipated by India. Above all, one can term it as a testing track but neither ‘dangerous’ nor ‘poor’ pitch to bat on.