Bullring flirts with loss of SA fixtures

2018-01-26 19:26
Aleem Dar and Ian Gould at the Wanderers (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The Wanderers, scene of a sensational suspension of Test play late on Friday for pitch-related reasons, runs the considerable risk of surrendering lucrative international matches later this summer.

READ: Dangerous Wanderers wicket sees players leave field

A series of spiteful, hand-rapping deliveries off decent lengths in the morning session of dramatic day three of the final Test between South Africa and India there gave rise to strong fears that the Bullring might become victim to the ignominy of an abandonment due to a dangerous surface.

Matters came to a head again towards the end of the day’s play as Proteas opener Dean Elgar suffered a string of blows, including one on the helmet grille - albeit to an orthodox, short-pitched bouncer he might have been better advised to duck under - and the umpires took the players off with some 20 minutes left to play, amidst mass confusion.

At the time of writing, it appeared any decisions related to the future of the increasingly controversial Test would be held over to Saturday.

Much earlier, during the lunch hour, the majority of the SuperSport commentary personalities, including past Test captains, appeared to favour the unprecedented step at the prestigious venue of calling off play permanently.

Indian batsmen, including captain Virat Kohli, had repeatedly been forced to summon the physio to the middle to treat painful blows to hands or fingers.

The ball was “spitting” from up close to the batsmen, especially in an area where there was a pronounced crack – it had already, worryingly, become apparent on day two – and, as Graeme Smith pointed out, taking pieces of the surface out around it to only aggravate the situation.

Even two-nation Test batsman Kepler Wessels, legendary for his “tough it out” qualities and similar demands of his charges when leading, felt the game should have been abandoned at that point, and he was supported by both Michael Holding and Mike Haysman in that view.

“Batsmen must expect danger from fast bowlers but not when it is mostly due to the pitch and you just know a ball can take off at any time,” said Wessels. “It’s exploding off a decent length.”

There had also been a pow-wow on the square during the awkward first session between umpires Aleem Dar and Ian Gould and the respective captains, Kohli and Faf du Plessis.

But play was allowed to continue after the break and, as if governed by Murphy’s Law, India only seemed to double their resolve at the crease in the bid to pull back a win in the dead-rubber affair for a more respectable 2-1 series defeat.

Further talk of abandonment was gradually quelled as the Indians advanced to a highly credible 247 in their second innings - easily the highest total thus far of the low-scoring contest.

But it also became clear again, when the Proteas set off in pursuit of a frankly harrowing target of 241 under the circumstances, that the hard, new ball is particularly hazardous to deal with as a batsman on this pitch.

One thing is almost certain: India would be livid if the match was abandoned too prematurely, considering the manner in which they had gutsed it out themselves at the crease in their second dig.

But the first hour of play is also considered unusually challenging, so the possibility of a “perfect storm” on Saturday morning, leading to renewed threat of abandonment by the officials, cannot be discounted. (Also to be considered is the natural deterioration you usually experience anyway as a Test winds onward.)

If the radical step happens, the Bullring would almost certainly be in line for “unfit” status and the maximum demerit points (five) under a new system of pitch monitoring adopted by the International Cricket Council from January 1.

Match referee Andy Pycroft of Zimbabwe would be the man to make the ruling; he can also consider three demerit points (“poor”) or two (“below average”).

The five-point sanction brings into play the provision for a 12-month hosting ban of international matches for the venue in question, although Cricket South Africa would have 14 days to respond to any negative critique before sanction would be imposed.

The Wanderers is due to stage the fourth one-day international between these countries on February 10, then also the first Twenty20 international on February 18 – both would be crowd-pulling money-spinners.

Just as intriguingly, though, the Wanderers is also earmarked as venue for the possibly pivotal fourth and final Test between South Africa and arch-rivals Australia from March 30.

Both have blistering pace arsenals so the surface would come massively under the spotlight in the lead-up, even before you consider the current hoo-ha ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    india  |  proteas  |  johannesburg  |  cricket

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