Friday, January 19, 2018

Something fishy about the South African pitches

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When South Africa toured India in the winter of 2015, the Nagpur Test lasted 247 overs. A little shy of 3 days assuming a 90 over day. The Capetown Test in comparison lasted 230 overs. And yet after the Nagpur Test questions were raised about the the pitch. It clearly seemed like the pitch had played out of character in comparison to previous Tests on the same ground. A combative Ravi Shastri; the architect of the "Hirwani Test"; had argued the right of the home team to make pitches that suit the strength of the home team.

It left a bad taste in the mouth for purists and Ian Chappel, who'd rather not have host captains meddle with pitch preparation. There was no real evidence of that but Ravi Shastri's comments did not help rule that possibility out.

South Africa lost the Nagpur Test by 124 runs. 40 wickets fell and The highest score in 4 innings in that Test was 215 that India scored on the first day. India too struggled to bat on the pitch

The ICC promptly called out Nagpur for the pitch not meeting Test standards. Or something like that.

Take the Capetown Test, the first Test on India's the ongoing tour of  South Africa.

India lost the test by 72 runs. 40 wickets fell and The highest score in 4 innings in that Test was 286 that South Africa scored on the first day. South Africa too struggled to bat on the pitch.

The Capetown pitch too played out of character. Just like in Nagpur, the scores in this Test at Capetown deviated from the norm. Yet the reaction from commentators which included ex-players was that this was a great Test match. No one questioned the pitch. Just that it had "spice". The ICC is unlikely to sanction the pitch.

The shortness of the Test even compared to the short Nagpur Test was perhaps masked by the fact the official 3rd day in Capetown was washed out.  Another factor could have been that India gave a much better account of themselves and thanks to some sparks from Hardik Pandya, and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar did not get blown away, like the South Africans were at Nagpur. Yet another factor that masked its shortness and prevented any questions about the pitch was that the scoring rate at Capetown across the Test, was 3.3 runs per over as compared to only 2.6 runs at Nagpur. So the Capetown Test was indeed more exciting than the Nagpur Test. There was more attractive cricket.

The single biggest factor though I feel that the pitch was never brought into discussion and assumed to be true and sporting was that India did not make an issue out of it. They had promised not to do so because otherwise it would have been hypocritical.

India seemed to have boxed themselves into letting South Africa and popular opinions; which do not always lend kindness to a traveling Indian team; run away with dictating the narrative of the pitches. So much so that in the second Test, they let Morne Morkel get away with setting the narrative that the Centurion pitch was "like playing in the subcontinent". India did not counter. They could not.

The rivalry between South Africa and India has deteriorated to a point that both sides are scared of losing at home to the other and not confident of winning in typical home conditions.

India started it.

I was hoping South Africa would take the high ground which would lead India to follow suit.