Officials at the Wanderers would have breathed a sigh of relief when play resumed on the fourth morning – albeit an hour later than scheduled after early rain – but they should not hold their breath on an all-clear. The venue could still face serious sanctions when the match referee compiles his report post game and could spend the next five years on tenterhooks trying to avoid a ban.
The ICC’s Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process, which came into effect on January 4 this year, imposes demerit points on venues according to the rating they are given on the match officials’ report. A pitch rating of “poor” attracts three demerit points while a pitch rating of “unfit” will earn the ground five demerit points. An accumulation of five points will result in automatic suspension from hosting international matches for 12 months.
A rating of “unfit” is only likely if the match is abandoned, which remains a possibility. After the players were taken off the field 19 minutes before the scheduled close on day three, the match officials held a meeting in which it was decided that although play will resume on the fourth day, the umpires must remain alert to any dangerous pitch behaviour for the rest of play.
Even if the Wanderers only received a rating of “poor”, with the demerit points active for a rolling five-year period, any other offences until 2023 could result in the stadium being sanctioned.
Considering that the Wanderers is one of South Africa’s premier grounds, which hosts at least one Test in most summers and usually more than one limited-overs’ match, several fixtures could be affected by a sanction.
For the rest of the 2017-18 summer, the ground is due to host an ODI against India, on February 10, a T20 on February 18 and a Test against Australia, starting on March 30. The two limited-overs matches are already sold out, with the ODI a particularly special occasion called ‘Pink Day’ – an awareness campaign for breast cancer.
The match referees’ report is forwarded to the home board from the ICC within 14 days of its receipt, which means that if the Test ends on Saturday, the report would be received by February 10, the same day as the ODI and with the provision for an appeal, the match is likely to be unaffected by a possible sanction. The T20 would also escape unharmed but if there is a ban in place, the Test against Australia could be in danger. And if there is no ban but only a “poor” rating and three demerit points, the pitch for the Test against Australia will be under close scrutiny, as will future fixtures.
South Africa host Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the 2018-19 summer and traditionally like to prepare spicy wickets for subcontinental sides. That was certainly their plan against India and captain Faf du Plessis has been brazen in his requests for pace and bounce, even though he has not always got it. At Newlands, where the pitch was rated “good”, South Africa got good carry and seam movement but at SuperSport Park, where heat and no rain affected preparation in the weeks leading up to the match, a more subcontinental type of surface earned the ire of the South Africans. There, du Plessis asked for CSA to appoint someone to oversee groundsmen around the country so they could achieve common ground in pitch preparation.
Doubtless, Bethuel Buthelezi, the Wanderers groundsman, heard all that and wanted to heed the captains’ call. South Africa have distanced themselves from Buthelezi’s surface with coach Ottis Gibson saying they only asked for pace and bounce, not grass, and team manager Mohammed Moosajee confirmed they were expecting the Wanderers to receive some punishment.
“There is no doubt that questions are going to be asked about the preparations of the pitch. When we got here on day one, it looked like a sporty wicket and from a South Africa perspective all we wanted was a wicket with pace and bounce. Obviously, the ICC will rate it and there will be some form of repercussion,” Moosajee said.