South Africa insisted that the uneven and excessive bounce and seam movement at the Wanderers in the third Test was not part of their request for helpful pitches. Though South Africa admitted to asking for surfaces that would assist their attack, they maintained that all they wanted was pace and bounce, and not the lateral movement or exaggerated bounce that this surface provided.
“Everybody is making a big issue of grass but we’ve never asked for grass, we asked for pace and bounce. If you’re a groundsman and we ask you to make a wicket with pace and bounce, and you feel that the best way to do that is leave grass on the wicket, that’s it. Then we get on and play with it,” Ottis Gibson, South Africa’s coach said. “The Test in Cape Town only went three days, but we thought it was a good wicket. We asked for a similar wicket in Centurion, and it was more like Mumbai than anywhere else, and it was a great Test match as well. With this one, the wicket has unfortunately got worse as the match has gone on.”
Asked whether the pitch may have been a result of extra pressure placed on the groundsman by the knowledge that South Africa would not settle for anything less than bowler-friendly conditions, Gibson did not think that was the case. “I can’t speak for groundsman. We asked for a certain type of pitch and then the groundsmen have a month to try and get it right,” he said.
But there is some expectation within the home camp that the scrutiny on the surface will not let up, even after play resumes on day four. “There is no doubt that questions are going to be asked about the preparations of the pitch, Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa’s team manager said. “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.”
South Africa stopped short of criticising the Wanderers surface and reiterated their willingness to play on. But between the two sides, they placed more emphasis on safety after Dean Elgar was struck on the grille of the helmet in the ninth over of South Africa’s chase. The incident caused play to called off 19 minutes before the scheduled close.
Initially, it appeared that the ball had veered up off a crack, but television replays showed that it had pitched at a back of a length, and Elgar had gone forward fairly far, which may have made it look worse than it actually was.
“Dean went forward and the ball took off from a length. Whether it was 8m or not, even on a third-day pitch, you are not expecting the ball that pitches at 8m to take off and hit the batsman on the head without the batsman even having the time to take evasive action” Gibson said. “At the end of the day, the umpires will make a decision, which they did. Before you go on about India batting twice on the same pitch, yes they did. And there were balls that were taking off from a length, and our captain was saying that, ‘I’m not sure that this is fair either.’ So it’s not like we are sour grapes or anything. We felt this morning that when balls were taking off off a length, it was obviously a little bit tricky and a decision would have to be made.”
Elgar was the only batsmen to be hit above the throat in the match, but players on both sides copped body blows. Hashim Amla was hit on the ribs, Ajinkya Rahane on the elbow, M Vijay on the hip, and several others on the gloves. South Africa’s concerns appeared to have begun then, especially because they felt batsmen did not have time to defend themselves.
“When I spoke to Faf at lunch, he said that if a ball is going to hit you on the finger and the bowlers are bowling at 140 and you haven’t got time to react or respond or take evasive action, then the umpires have to think that they have to look after player safety,” Gibson said. “If you think it’s getting a bit dangerous – and the umpires in the middle were saying that before lunch – Faf said, ‘A couple on the fingers, we can get away with, but when the ball rears up and hits you on the face then it’s a different situation.”
And after all that, Gibson said the team are “absolutely not” making excuses for the position they find themselves in now on an increasingly difficult pitch.
“Throughout the whole game on both sides, we saw batsmen wearing a few on the body, and we are not complaining. I hope you are not sitting here thinking we are complaining. But obviously Dean got hit in the face when he wasn’t able to take evasive action, and there was one before that that he went forward to that he was going to leave that bounced up and hit him on the hand. But again he wasn’t able to take evasive action. Once they (the match officials) tell us what the decision is, we’ll get on with it.”
And on the fourth morning, they will have to.