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
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
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
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 ...
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