JOHANNESBURG – The match officials decided late on Friday night that the third and final Sunfoil Test between the Proteas and India will continue on Saturday morning after suspending play 20 minutes before stumps on the third day, when South African opener Dean Elgar was struck on the head by a bouncer.
Quite how long the match will continue will be decided by the umpires, but for now, the Wanderers, the Gauteng Cricket Board (GCB) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) have been saved from embarrassment.
The Proteas ended the day on 17/1 after they dismissed India for 247, and the hosts need another 224 runs to win the series 3-0.
Of course there is still a danger the game could be abandoned if the umpires deem the pitch to be dangerous, which could cost the stadium its international status for the next 12 months.
That would be a significant financial blow to the ground and the GCB, which is set to host the fourth ODI against India – a match that’s already been sold out – a T20 International also against India and the fourth Test against Australia at the end of March.
Ironically, the delivery that struck Elgar was a legitimate short ball from India’s quickest bowler Jasprit Bumrah, and did not misbehave off the pitch.
Elgar had gotten into a terrible tangle and was struck flush on the head. He received treatment from the SA team’s physio Craig Govender.
And while that was happening the two umpires, Ian Gould and Aleem Dar, had a lengthy discussion before match referee Andy Pycroft was called on the field and play was abandoned for the day.
The pitch had been a point of concern for the on-field umpires for most of the day and at tea time, the managers of the two teams were informed that if the umpires felt the surface was “unfair,” they would consult the captains before making any decision about the match continuing.
The Indians, understandably, are keen for the match to continue, with Ajinkya Rahane, who made an excellent 48 saying the pitch wasn’t dangerous.
“When me and Virat (Kohli) were batting and me and Bhuvi (Kumar), it was completely their (umpires) decision. We told them we want to continue playing,” said Rahane.
The umpires had been fretting about the pitch all day, halting play in the morning after Indian opener Murali Vijay had been struck on the hand.
Kohli, Rahane and Hardik Pandya had all been hit on the hand or arm when they batted.
Before he was hit on the head, Elgar also received treatment after being struck on his right hand, while another delivery briefly floored him when he was hit in the mid-riff.
Kohli and his South African counterpart Faf du Plessis held a brief meeting in the match referee’s room after play, before groundsman Bethuel Buthelezi, former groundsman Chris Scott (now an advisor here), Gauteng Cricket Board CEO Greg Fredericks and Cricket SA’s acting CEO Thabang Moroe were also seen entering the referee’s room 45 minutes after play was suspended.
South African coach Ottis Gibson said later that his team were happy to play, as long as the umpires decided the surface wasn’t dangerous.
That’s something of a cop-out by the Proteas, because Law 6 – which relates to the pitch – says the umpires can decide if the pitch is unplayable, but then has to consult and get agreement from both captains before a match can be abandoned.
Just two Tests have been abandoned owing to conditions – in 1998 at Sabina Park in Jamaica, the first Test between England and the West Indies was stopped after just 10 overs because the pitch was deemed too dangerous for batting.
And in 2009, a sandy outfield at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua led to the second Test also involving England being called off because the outfield was deemed too dangerous for the bowlers and the fielders as a result of it being too sandy.
That match lasted just 10 balls.
India, in particular Kohli and Rahane, batted magnificently through the first two sessions, while Kumar made another valuable contribution, scoring 33 in 114 minutes.
The Indian tail batted very well given the conditions, and it certainly did not look like a dangerous pitch at that time.
India’s bowlers, as Gibson noted, have made far better use of this surface than the hosts, for whom these are supposedly ideal conditions.
The Indian bowlers’ lines and lengths were far superior to South Africa’s, allowing them to utilise whatever demons there are in the pitch.
The Proteas provided far too much width to the touring batsmen, a strange ploy that could not have been part of their plans.
With the exception of Kohli’s wicket on Friday – a ball that jagged back off the surface to hit the top of off-stump – none of the Indian wickets could be said to have resulted from anything strange happening off the surface.
Even Aiden Markram’s dismissal for four late in the day – to a wide ball that did bounce a little more than perhaps it should from a fuller length – could have been avoided had the batsman left the ball alone.
Elgar passed his concussion test on Friday evening after the blow he took to the head from Bumrah. He will be observed overnight, and will be tested again on Saturday morning.