Home pitches failed Proteas

2014-03-06 13:30

Cape Town – Perhaps it is necessary to make it clear at the outset: South Africa didn’t use them as an excuse.

Outgoing captain Graeme Smith was clear and magnanimous, after all, in his praise of the 2-1 Australian Test series victory, summing it up fittingly: “It’s been a fighting series for us more than a well played series ... Australia deserved their win.”

But the pitches offered for the home series?

For the most part, I am convinced they played a little too much into Aussie hands during the course of a classically hard-fought set of battles.

What’s more, I believe several senior Proteas personnel would have loved to say as much, but they are aware sour grapes is a poor phenomenon and they have overwhelmingly – at least thus far -- desisted.

For all the competitiveness and occasional flare-ups of animosity over the last few weeks, there is also a pretty deep-rooted respect between these powerful cricketing nations, and it is intact after the latest series.

The Proteas, in short, will take this setback on the chin.

At varying times, though, the surfaces played on have come under harsh focus, and there is little doubt in my own mind that the Baggy Greens, generally speaking, would have pleasurably and surprisingly found them a tad more “Australian” in character than South African.

Smith was largely non-committal when grilled on that very score at his emotion-charged final press conference as national captain at Newlands on Wednesday evening (where the bilateral army of assembled scribes gave him a tribute and protracted bout of applause).

Yet it was so easy to read between the lines as he first considered his reply and then said: “I don’t know if this is the right place to get into that now ... (but) there are some important things that need to be tightened a little bit.

“An environment needs to be created that can make success for the (SA’s) players.”

Interestingly, in a television interview during the third Test, the very recently retired great all-rounder Jacques Kallis had also made reference to strips during the series not making things too suitable for South Africa’s strengths – if you’re not going to create a hullabaloo from within the team ranks, why not make use of an authoritative, loyal spokesperson from just outside it, eh?

Discerning domestic enthusiasts will know that the Proteas’ bowlers -- most traditionally in modern times, with Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander strongly to the fore – are at their best when there is just a little (or even a bit more than that) deviation off the seam.

Not only are our bowlers most familiar with that “sideways” hallmark, but South African batsmen are also well-versed in playing to combat it.

In Australia, pitches tend to be fast and bouncy but don’t provide the same levels of nip: they are truer, so the flavour of the cricket is crash, bang, wallop ... a la the way David Warner, the clear-cut man of the series in South Africa, plays, with his swashbuckling blade.

The notable failure at any of Centurion (where the spitefully up-and-down nature only had Aussie left-arm wrecker Mitchell Johnson in his element), St George’s Park and Newlands was to tee up conditions sparking seam movement and swing – and I mean conventional swing.

Instead what we more dominantly witnessed were conditions conducive to reverse swing ... a characteristic that comes into play, especially toward the back end of Tests, when surfaces are dry, pretty grassless and abrasive.

It is deeply educative that well less than a year ago, this Australian side lost an Ashes series 3-0 in England, where orthodox seam movement is also common, before roaring back on Aussie turf, where the ball comes through to the bat gun-barrel straight but briskly, to take the return series 5-0.

In short, South Africa needed to have tried harder to make the local environment more “English”.

It has been successfully done before, and should be revisited in some earnest.

At present, I am not convinced the all-important national team and its brains trust are on the same song-sheet as the administrators and ground-staff at the countrywide, well-entrenched Test grounds.

People say Smith’s rather sudden decision to quit was the culmination of “a variety of factors”, and they may be right.

I fancy pitch preparation for the Australian series may have been one string to that particular bow.

Bottom line: when at home you’ve got to make that advantage count.

Other teams do.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


  • Harris Philip - 2014-03-06 13:37

    What a weak article.

      Jim King - 2014-03-06 14:26

      a bad workman blames his tools.. these twats love to complain about everything under the sun #weak

      Utopian Idealist - 2014-03-06 14:45

      How can Rob claim that reverse swing is generated when surfaces are dry and grass less. Surely the surface can have very little to do with it considering the swing takes place before the ball pitches and seams away. Swing has a lot more to do with climate conditions, bowling technique and ball preservation. So then we have to ask our selves how the groundsman could have anything to do with the amount of reverse on offer. Surely this is just another way of blaming someone else other that the players themselves for the loss.

      Oz Mann - 2014-03-06 15:05

      Utopian: Pitch condition is the major factor is getting the ball into a state for reverse swing. Its the ball hitting the pitch that does the most degradation to the condition of the ball. The more abrasive the pitch, the rougher one side can be made. Outfield and good shining of the 'outside' half are also factors - but the ball hitting the pitch (assuming no other illegal activities are taking place) is the biggest factor. Atmospheric conditions most likely play a factor in conventional swing, but play no factor in reverse swing. Its all about the extent of roughness one one side, plus bowling technique to ensure the seam is vertical and ideally pointed towards fine leg for right handed bowler to a right handed batsman.

      David Thomas - 2014-03-06 15:09

      @Utopian idealist. Traditional 'new-ball' swing is aided predominantly by overhead conditions. It is accentuated by the bowlers ability to release an upward or consistently angled seam at the point of delivery. Reverse swing is generated as a result of consistent working of an older ball and the addition of sweat to the rougher side, resulting in one side of the ball being heavier, rather than shinier. Abrasive surfaces aid in prepping the ball to receive that type of treatment. The quicker the ball abrades, the better it can be prepared for reverse swing. That is why specific pitches and abrasive surfaces are conducive to reverse swing. The art is more in the fielders preparation than the bowlers' action. That being said, slingy actions and true pace from the bowler are required to the generate reverse swing. I hope this helps.

      Douglas Hollis - 2014-03-06 22:41

      Thanks David...first time anyone explains the physics of reverse swing in a way I could remotely understand.

  • Udzai Munhumumwe - 2014-03-06 13:47

    So after all the doctoring of the pitches, we still were humiliated by one of the Big 3...and in our backyard!

      Terry Burne - 2014-03-06 18:17

      Udzai - I think you missed the point of the article - he was saying that the pitches were not doctored to suit the South African bowlers, but they were more suited to the Australian bowlers, and that perhaps the pitches should have been made more suitable for the local team, because that is what all other countries do on their home pitches - e.g. India being a prime example.

  • Ronald Godfrey - 2014-03-06 13:48

    I agree.

  • Edward Pretorius - 2014-03-06 13:49

    I agree 100% ,any other country would have been prepared wickets that suit their strengths! In a couple of months time we go to Sri Lanka,and you can be sure they would dish up some raging turners from the word go! I always felt that South Africans are way to generous in doing their best to make visiting teams as comfy as possible! The Indians have Kingsmead,now the Aussies call Centurion home,its bizarre!

      Antony Horan - 2014-03-07 05:40

      Edward not everyone prepares their pitches to suit! Yes the English & New Zealand pitches move around because of the cooler climate, the WI are always roads that crumble after a little while. The Indians deliberately prepare dustbowls, Sri Lanka depends on when you visit. In Australia you have 5/6 different types and have always been consistent. The Gabba swings and seams due to Brisbane's slightly tropical weather, The SCG is a turner, though not as much as it used to be (drop in pitches), The MCG something for everyone, Adelaide a batsman's paradise if he gets in, bowlers if he uses it properly, The WACA is known for its pace and Hobart depends on the weather. None are doctored, except when Cricket Australia asked for fairer pitches that weren't waited one way or the other. If the Aussies doctored pitches, then wouldn't they all have been raging turners with Warney. Or made to seam for McGrath & Co? As these were the Aussie strengths for over a decade wouldn't it have made sense? But it never happened that way. A true number 1 team will play any team any where in any conditions at any time, otherwise you set yourself up like India - Lions at home less than a mouse away!

  • Sarel van Deventer - 2014-03-06 14:05

    dont blame the pitches, if u want to be the best u should be able to play on all surfaces! I dont know why but for the last 8 years we play better away from home so how can u blame the pitches? I think a few tweeks too the national team wil do! Maybe de kock and elgar can open!

  • Anele Booi - 2014-03-06 14:07

    Eish Rob you're full of excuses, we were defeated because of our batmen were batting poorly worse our opening batters even our tail were better dan dem

  • Jimmy NZ - 2014-03-06 14:08

    Forgive Rob for his lame article...he is so used to defending and making excuses for the Stormers that he really doesn't know what else to do!

      Jim King - 2014-03-06 15:05

      Rob the pitches were crap like everything in Sa but atleast the aussies didnt let that stop them

  • Hero-Gorha Madikizela - 2014-03-06 14:11

    You spot on Rob. Look at MS Dhoni, he always makes sure that when playing in India the pitches suit his bowlers, New Zealand beating India was also to some extent due to the pitches that were prepared to suit New Zealand bowlers. And our groundsmen...eerr you just dont know if they want us to win not.

  • Ian Spear - 2014-03-06 14:22

    Hi Senor Rob, I do not agree with your pitch report and the outcome of the series. Firstly the batsmen should have been prepared against India for the Johnson et al onslaught, we knew it was coming, ask Jimmy, Joey, Ally, Johny, Matty and the rest of the Pom team. SA were setup by 'THE BEST ATTACK IN THE WORLD " jibe at us and we fell for it at Centurion. Firstly we should have batted on that wicket and our bowlers did not step upto the plate. When SA did have the Australians under pressure with 4 down on day one, SA released the pressure, and we payed for it. PE. was a total turn around and the whole team pitched up and played great cricket. So much has been said about the ball, what a lot of crock, SA bowled well and ground out a hard faught victory. The batsmen occupied the crease and gave the bowlers something to bowl at. There was nothing wrong with Newlands pitch as the Australian batsmen proved to us. Our bowling was not up to it and our game plan handed Australia the test on a plate. After Australia batted us out of the game, why did we not then reasses our plans and occupy the crease for at least 3 and a half sessions. Instead we came out firing, scored quick runs but lost 4 early wickets. From tea time on day 3 we were on the backfoot. Not the pitch Senor Rob, a cerebral malfunction. And don't forget that 'STEYNTJIE' was not likely to bowl in the 2nd innings. Our approach to our batting on day 3 should have been like our 2nd innings.our batting order no brainer

  • OzzyInSA - 2014-03-06 14:23

    Yet the Australian bowlers managed to get seam movement off the pitch in Cape Town. Especially Ryan Harris (see the spell of Harris to AB in the 2nd innings). Excuse after excuse. What will you guys blame next? The ball? Fact is that the SA highly rated bowling attack could not adapt to the conditions. Abbot was brought in because Newlands was his home ground and could do nothing. The SA bowling attack is over-rated because of having ideal home conditions for them in the past. When things do not suit them they fold up their tent. However, the biggest problem for SA was that they were totally unprepared going into the 1st Test. The pitch in PE was "doctored" to suit them in PE. Even the SA biased commentators like Wessels and Haysman said as much. Just remember, 2 teams played on the same pitches. One excelled, the other was ordinary in all facets of the game.

      Daniel Wessels - 2014-03-06 14:44

      Abbot's home ground is Newlands?? Looks like the Cobra's have bought a new player. Must be due to Smith retiring, Abbot actually plays for the Dolphins which is in KZN. Newlands is in Cape Town which is not in KZN.

      Danie Nortje - 2014-03-06 14:55

      Spare us the "doctored" crap, when did either Wessels or Haysman say the pitch was "doctored"? PE has never been and never was a fast wicket. The same way you can expect pace in Australian wickets you can expect green, seaming wickets in England and slow dustbowls in India.

      Richard Barnes - 2014-03-06 16:10

      OzzyInSA, stop displaying your ignorance and reading from the same dishonest and deluded hymn sheet as Ravana Asura. The Proteas' away record is BETTER than our home record. Last time we were in India, we drew the series 1-1 and Dale Steyn averaged around 20 per wicket. How did Mitchell and the Aussie attack do in India last time you were there? Oh yeah, I remember now - you got spanked 4-zip. The Proteas are unbeaten away from home for seven years. During that time, we have lost a grand total of five Tests away from home - two to India, one each to Pak, Eng and Aus. Aus, by contrast, have lost eight Tests away in just over a year - four to India, three to England, one to SA. Yes, the Proteas are not masters of all conditions, and the best team in the world should have an attack that can dominate everywhere - which the Proteas have not been able to do against Aus in SA. But Aus are hardly the world leaders in this regard. When you've gone unbeaten away from home for several years, then we can talk. But not even the great Aus side under Waugh and later Ponting managed to string together seven years of unbeaten series away.

      Antony Horan - 2014-03-07 06:00

      Richard Johnson only played one test in India, Siddle was the only current bowler to play every test. Otherwise Lyon & Pattinson 3, Starc, Lyon, Maxwell & Doherty 2, So it is not the current squad of bowlers. Plus they chopped and changed every test with at least two made every test. How would your Sth African team fair making at least 2 changes to the bowlers every test?

  • Jonathan Reid - 2014-03-06 14:31

    If anything, we were a bit rusty having no played any tests for awhile and the Oz team was well prepared having just played the Ashes. Our bowlers looked particularly unprepared.

  • John Jessup - 2014-03-06 14:37

    There are other problems like opening batting, no spinner, inexperienced coaching, selection, lack of proper game preparation and political interference. But I agree fully with Rob. There seems to be a disconnect and/or lack of knowledge somewhere in our local pitch preparation. Too much is being left to chance or luck. If this has become an important part of the game, we better learn how to do it.

      Ian Spear - 2014-03-06 14:52

      Senor John, from my observation the pitches held up preet well over the 4 or 5 days cricket was played. The only spinner to take a fifa was Lyons in a first inning. Normally the pitches are crumbling and full of demons by the end of day 4. The groundsmen did a fantastic job and that resulted in a great series, Centution had up an down movement, but the batsmen who showed application stayed at the crease.

  • Danie Nortje - 2014-03-06 14:40

    As much as I agree the pitches weren't typical "South African" I think using that as the main reason for failure is a weak argument. Overall I thought our bowling attack, with the exception of parts in the second test, seemed to have no plan how to bowl to the Aussies. I have to question the preparation and thinking that went into this test series, as the Aussies seemed to be much more prepared than our team. If we want to maintain/claim the no.1 position then we will have to beat teams in their own conditions as well

  • Callie de Jager - 2014-03-06 14:40

    Might as well try and blame Apartheid and the weakening rand while we're at it. Proteas were arrogant, a sure sign that you will soon see your a$$.

  • Werner Schyns - 2014-03-06 14:40

    Sour grapes

  • Garry Honiball - 2014-03-06 14:44

    No 1 team in the world... on certain pitches??? No sir, crap batsmen were our downfall.

  • Deon Louw - 2014-03-06 14:45

    Winning of the last toss would have made a big difference too. We fought long and hard but were just not up to the task.

  • Victor Swan - 2014-03-06 14:49

    No sir, the proteas failed the proteas, poor excuse!

  • Mark Wright - 2014-03-06 14:57

    We were outplayed. Had nothing to do with the pitches. Waste of an article

  • Andrew Worrall - 2014-03-06 14:57

    As a financial adviser, i get paid to negotiate my clients investments through good and bad times. Its tough when its bad but that's why I'm a professional and so should you be Proteas. Use your skill on bad pitches like others do. Stop moaning and get on with it or do something else.

  • harold.marsberg - 2014-03-06 14:58

    I agree that we do not push our home advantage where our groundsmen are meant to prepare pitches that work to our team's strengths.......generally our groundsmen are as sharp as our selectors and other administrators!

  • Oz Mann - 2014-03-06 15:00

    You have got to be kidding! The wickets at PE and CT were 'doctored' to negate Johnson after seeing the way he decimated SA's strong batting lineup in Centurion. The tactic worked for the home side in PE and Johnson was ineffective and the other bowlers couldn't reverse it. The tactic would have worked better in CT had SA won the toss. Your doctoring of the wickets to remove bounce did negate Johnson, but had the added bonus of also negating Lyon. Lyon is an offie whose biggest weapon is over-spin and the bounce that can generate on hard bouncy tracks. Without that, as we saw in the last 2 Tests, Lyon struggles to get wickets.

      Ian Spear - 2014-03-06 15:09

      Senor Oz, the pitches had a lot of bounce in them, or was i watcing a different series to others. Ask Clarke if there was bounce in the Newlands pitch. The difference was the game plans and the batsmen's mind sets.

  • Matt Jumbo Gerber - 2014-03-06 15:15

    The toss was important , but both teams played on the same pitch. Weak argument, SA was just outplayed on the day.

  • David Meredith - 2014-03-06 17:45

    Who control world cricket now? India, Aus & England. In December the Pitch was made to favour the Indians ... now they were made to favour the Ausies mmm Interesting. No sour grapes we lost fair n square to a better team but an interesting fact, maybe a sign of things to come ..? Hope Not!

      Richard Barnes - 2014-03-06 17:59

      Three questions for you: 1) Aus beat us by the same 2-1 scoreline when they toured SA in 2009. Were the Big Three already controlling world cricket then? 2) Biff complained that the Newlands pitch prepared for the Pak tour in 2013 was a subcontinent wicket on which Pak would feel more at home than SA did. Which of the three boards - the ECB, CA or the BCCI - ordered this pitch? And, more importantly, why did they do it, considering that their teams weren't involved in the series? 3) We have been able to beat Aus twice in Aus, on pitches prepared by them for them. If we can win on Aus pitches in Aus, why can't we win on Aus pitches in SA?

  • Ian Spear - 2014-03-06 19:15

    Someone please correct me. It was a 3 match series and 10 or 11 centuries were compiled against the two best bowling attacks in the world, and cricket writers and so called fundis reckon the pitches were no good. Wow, what a lot of crock.

      Richard Barnes - 2014-03-06 19:41

      10 centuries were recorded. During the last Aus tour of SA in 2009, 9 centuries were recorded. During the SA tour of Aus in 2012, 12 centuries were recorded - including two doubles. During the 2008 tour of Aus by SA, only 5 centuries were recorded. So I don't think these pitches were outside the norm. Anytime you have three results in a Test series, one late on day five and the other two late on day four, the pitches have been OK. I don't think the criticism is that the pitches were bad per se, just that they favoured Aus more than SA. Interestingly, the last time Aus toured SA (2011), our highest batting average was recorded by Dale. This time, by Vernon. So unfortunately our bowlers are heading up the 'wrong' averages table.

  • Gideon de Jongh - 2014-03-06 21:27

    The bottom line is Australia's bowlers out gunned ours by a huge margin same way their batsmen out performed our batsmen by a huge margin and the score line proves it only in PE did we play near our best if this was a 5 test series Aus would have taken it 4-1 as simple as that.

  • Sean Tearnan - 2014-03-06 21:53

    A simple fact everyone is overlooking the team that batted first in each test got runs and created the pressure and team batting second folded like a pack of cards on all 3 tests. Both teams did not handle pressure when it was put on

  • Johnny Axe - 2014-03-07 00:24

    How is it possible that a pitch suitable to Johnson, Harris, Siddle, Pattinson is not suitable to Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Abbott? Pretty much the same type of bowlers.

      Harris Philip - 2014-03-07 04:51

      Johnny , I thought that was the exact point that we South Africans were making before the tour. We have (had) the best pace bowling attack in the world. On top of that , Biff was telling us that we have played against Johnson before ......we know his capabilities and how to handle him. Well , we know the result now ......we DONT have the best pace attack in the world ...and we dont know how to handle Mitch Johnson. Not even on our own pitces.

  • Warren Smith - 2014-03-09 08:52

    What rubbish - really poor logic - but whatever gets the comments coming in heh Rob? The first test was one by the team batting first - not Australia. It got progressively more up and down as the test went on. Smith is a great captain but made the mistake that cost SA the series right there. SA would have won if they batted first on that. PE was also kinder to the team batting first. If Aus had batted first there theyd have won too. But SA - feeling that they had found the means to nullify Johnson tried to reproduce the same pitch at Newlands and turned what is normally a super test wicket in a graveyard for bowlers. Except that the Aussies bowlers performed and SA finally fell foul of a Steyn injury Unfortunate but if it was a normal test pitch at Newlands they would have had a chance of bowling Aus out at least once and changing the complexion of the game. But SA didnt trust Morkel and Philander to hurt Australia in the wickets column and so they went with a dry pitch that would aid reverse swing - and still had the nerve to shout ball tampering when Australias bowlers managed it and SA's couldnt. I think it highlights the real reason SA lost this series. SA are a one man bowling attack. Steyn - the greatest of them all carries Morkel and Philander when conditions arent tailor made for them. SA ordered pitches they thought would suit them and lost anyway - fittingly to the one nation left in world cricket that doesnt stoop to these practices themselves.

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