JOHANNESBURG – Tit for tat. This for that. You spin us out, we will bounce you out.
“We didn’t prepare this wicket. We are ready to play! Why didn’t you notice when our batsmen nine, 10, 11 were batting and South Africa were bowling around the wicket at the head?” the visiting management fumed.
India, with much justification, have taken the moral high ground on the debacle that has become the third and final Test of a series that has become increasingly less about cricket than it has been about playing surfaces.
Where, and when, on earth will the International Cricket Council draw the line on what has now become a ridiculous trend of groundsmen and their precious patches snatching the headlines from the 22 men who borrow them?
“I wouldn’t say it is dangerous,” Ajinkya Rahane smirked, knowing full well that he and his batsmen will no longer face the music at the Bullring.
In India’s seething minds, it is South Africa’s turn to face the very disco that they demanded from the Wanderers staff, even if it is now giving the hosts a severe headache.
India, like South Africa back in 2015, have refused to complain in public about the pitches.
Making an excuse, even if it was completely justified, would be a show of weakness – an admission that their world number one status is somehow compromised.
The Proteas went through the same thing in 2015, keeping mum about their disappointment in public, but privately fuming and waiting for 2018 to exact a measure of revenge.
The irony, of course, is that South Africa’s very own sword has turned on them in this third Test match.
India have a pace attack that enjoys South African conditions in a manner that South Africa’s greatest collection of spinners would never do on the dustiest of Indian turners.
“India have utilised the conditions better than we have over three days, and they deserve to be in the position they are in,” Proteas coach Ottis Gibson straight-batted.
The visitors surely have, as they seek to end a tense series on a high note.
The assertion that they travel terribly has wounded them deeply, and they have defiantly stood up under the heat at The Wanderers, if only to prove that they will not go down whinging.
But that one-upmanship is far from the point. It should never have come to this.
If the ivory towers in Dubai actually blot out this perennial sideshow that is an international challenge for curators to cook up the perfect home-flavoured storm, we may get back to talking about Hashim Amla and Ajinkya Rahane batting, and Kagiso Rabada and Bhuvi Kumar bowling.
That is what the game is supposed to be about, instead of captains and managers consulting groundsmen and getting wickets meticulously tailored for their needs.
Both these teams are good enough to compete and entertain anywhere.
This, however, is not really a competition anymore. A bad wicket has deteriorated to junk status, but we don’t dare abandon the whole rigmarole because the repercussions would be too costly.
If the responsibility of producing a surface that provides a spectacle for the fans – the bloodline of this whole, big machine – then the powers-that-be must take those reins and moderate more stringently on the game.
Over 10 000 people bought tickets for Saturday at The Bullring. By the time “play” starts, it may well be 13 000.
The Bullring houses a unique atmosphere when there is a contest at hand, and the game tends to move along on a normal Wanderers track.
This, however, has been abnormal, and tracks like this hurt the game as they take away the most commercially attractive skill of all – batsmanship.
The thousands that turn up will watch a farce, and they have every right to request their money back.
If the ICC had dug in and abandoned the match, The Wanderers could have lost international status for the next 12 months.
Maybe those are the measures needed to bring the game back to what it is supposed to be – a battle between bat and ball.
Tit for tat? This has all gone rather tits up.