JOHANNESBURG – There is too much talk about pitches in South Africa.
Despite what Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson said after the Centurion and Cape Town Tests against Pakistan, the pitches for those two matches were not good. There wasn’t a good balance between bat and ball at SuperSport Park, and the same could be said for Newlands, although batting was a smidgen easier.
But no way should a ball shoot through at shin height on day one, as happened to poor Aiden Markram in Cape Town, nor should players be copping body blows on day three from balls trampolining off a fuller length, which happened in both games. Batting really should get easier on days two and three.
South Africa’s motivation for having pitches that give their fast bowlers an edge is understandable, but does it need to be so heavily weighted towards them?
The Proteas were scarred by the series loss to India in 2015. On that tour, India, having lost the ODI series and fearing embarrassment in the Tests, instructed their groundsmen to "rake" the pitches. The third match in Nagpur was played on a surface subsequently sanctioned by the ICC. SA lost the series 3-0 and it would have been 4-0 were it not for rain in Bangalore.
What SA did was follow India’s example and ask for pitches that favoured their quick bowlers to make life difficult for opposing batsmen.
There’s nothing wrong with that (home ground advantage should be an advantage), but in South Africa’s case in the last couple of seasons it's switched too far and it has caused problems for groundsmen who are working in challenging conditions - a changing natural environment (global warming affects pitch preparation too) and financial limitations that mean that squares that should have been dug up or refreshed haven’t been because unions can’t afford to do so.
It should also be noted that livelier, bouncier and quicker pitches are not what the Proteas want when they face Australia. Remember last summer’s series played on slower surfaces in Durban and Port Elizabeth, a fairly "normal" Newlands pitch and a Wanderers one that had no demons owing mainly to that ground needing to stay well within the limits lest it be sanctioned again by the ICC and lose its international status?
And guess what, South Africa won three of those four Tests. Why? Well, the current crop of quick bowlers are arguably as a collective some of the finest South Africa has produced. Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada have claimed over 800 Test wickets between them; they’re really THAT good and don’t need that much help from pitches.
So we have Du Plessis saying SA batsmen don’t mind sacrificing their egos and Gibson saying Test cricket is supposed to be hard, but someone like Theunis de Bruyn, trying to make his way in the game, can’t build confidence because he doesn’t know when the next ball with his name on it is coming his way.
South Africa don’t need pitches so heavily weighted in favour of their quicks, as has been the case in the first two matches against Pakistan. They are a good Test side on home soil; they’ve shown that against Australia and showed it against India on a slower track in the second Test at SuperSport Park last season.
So dial down on the talk for livelier tracks, especially against sides from the sub-continent. Let the groundsmen be and just play the game.@shockerhess