JOHANNESBURG – ‘Nothing to see here,’ is the message from the Central Gauteng Lions (previously the Gauteng Cricket Board) about the pitch for the third and final Test between Pakistan and South Africa that starts at the Wanderers on Friday.
The state of South African pitches have been all the rage in recent seasons, and last summer the Wanderers were docked demerit points after a poorly prepared surface was heavily criticised by the International Cricket Council for being too ‘dangerous’ for play.
As a result, any more mishaps with pitches at the ‘Bullring’ in the next four years could see the venerable venue lose its international status, which would be a disaster for the region and Cricket South Africa.
However the CGL’s chief executive, Greg Fredericks, said he was “very happy with the preparation,” of the pitch for this week’s third Test. “I’ve just come from the pitch now, and it’s fine, I’m very happy.”
“People forget that after the Indian Test last season, we hosted Australia here as well and there were no issues with the pitch for that Test. There have also been no issues for our domestic four day matches, or the limited of matches, so our pitches have been fine,” said Fredericks.
Nevertheless the CGL took heed of the lessons from the Indian Test, and recently appointed Newlands curator Evan Flint as the Wanderers’ head groundsman. He takes over from Bethuel Buthelezi, who is this week preparing the pitch alongside the long-time former head groundsman at the ‘Bullring,’ Chris Scott.
The same problems which caused the ICC to sanction the venue following the third Test against Virat Kohli’s side last summer have not been witnessed there again. The Test against the Australians took place at the end of March last year but produced a match where there was an even contest between bat and ball.
Aiden Markram and Faf du Plessis each made hundreds, Temba Bavuma scored an unbeaten 95* while there were wickets for Australia’s Pat Cummins - nine in the match - and Vernon Philander who picked up 6/21 in Australia’s second innings to seal a 492-run win.
In this series against Pakistan, the pitches at Centurion and in Cape Town have been under scrutiny particularly for the amount of assistance they’ve lent the fast bowlers. The Centurion Test finished in two and half days, while at Newlands, the Proteas played an all-seam attack in a match that only just crept into the fourth morning.
Pakistan’s coach Mickey Arthur was very critical of the inconsistent bounce of the Newlands surface but his South African counterpart Ottis Gibson brushed off Arthur’s remarks, saying Test cricket was supposed to be tough. “Test cricket has always been that if you are prepared to bat long and stick it out and show some resilience, then you will score runs and earn the runs you score," Gibson said after the second Test.
Fredericks and the CGL will hope that debates about pitches cease this week. This season the Wanderers has seen some excellent batting in the domestic Four-Day Franchise competition, and reward for bowling too, with Lions pair Beuran Hendricks picking up a couple of five-fors there while Dwaine Pretorius claimed a ‘ten-for’ in the last match at the ground before the Christmas break. There was even success for a spinner, with the Cape Cobras' Dane Piedt picking up seven wickets in a marathon second innings spell there in October.
There have been four hundreds scored at the ground this season as well, while matches in the Mzansi Super League saw some big totals, including the two highest of the tournament.
Of concern for the CGL has been the slow ticket sales for the last Test. “It’s not been too good, disappointing actually,” Fredericks acknowledged.
Strangely sales for the Wanderers’ marquee event have gone extremely well. “The Pink Day ODI is almost sold out.”
Tickets for the Test match are available through ticketpros.co.za and start from R60.@shockerhess