“It’s quite a spicy wicket. No one can hide from the fact that you can get out every ball. By the same token, it’s challenging as a batsman. Sometimes we get onto wickets that are pretty flat and you can score lots of runs. It is just quite difficult to bat, whether its too excessive or not, if you ask a batsman what do you think they will say?” Amla said.
Asked whether he could compare the manner in which this surface favoured seam bowlers with the spin-heavy Nagpur pitch on which South Africa played and lost in 2015 – which was rated poor by the ICC – Amla deflected his answer to discuss conditions in general and went back to last week’s SuperSport Park pitch, which South Africa are continuing to refer to as subcontinental.
“Both were very difficult to bat. I think the difference here, if you look at Centurion the wicket it didn’t suit us one bit, and for us to win that game in those type of subcontinent conditions proved that we are playing good cricket,” Amla said. “I am happy that we’ve won matches on wickets that are doing quite a bit for the bowlers and on pitches that offered something to the batters. We still came out on top.”
This track is the complete opposite of Centurion, which was slow and low and took turn as early as day one. Here, uneven bounce on a surface with widening cracks and green grass has meant that some balls veer up, others keep low, and there is substantial movement on offer.
India’s Jasprit Bumrah, who took his first five-for in Test cricket today, agrees that it is treacherous for batsmen and that he has not played on such a pitch before. “Some balls are up and down, so that could be dangerous sometimes for the batsman. But we are not focusing on those things right now. We feel the match is in the balance right now.
“Yeah, it’s a little different. We haven’t played on such a wicket, I would say that. But we are not too critical of the pitch because the match is going on, we can’t stray away from the topic. So that is the basic plan – don’t focus on the wicket. We are focusing on what we have to do right now.”
Amla is the one batsmen who seemed in control, but only because he adjusted himself so that he moved further across his stumps than he normally does. He explained the strategy was meant to counter the movement. “I figured that the ball is doing too much, so get into the channel. If it’s outside the line, try and leave it. You are going to take a few knocks on the body but that’s part of the game.”
As he predicted, Amla was hit. Ishant Sharma got one to move off a crack and strike him in the ribs. Amla was a touch winded, received on-field attention and then hit Ishant for back-to-back fours and joked that it was the ball, not his own body, that hurt more. “It’s okay. The ball started reversing after that, so people were checking the ball to see if it was still okay,” he said.
Amla had only faced 44 of his 121 balls at that stage, but never looked ready to bed in and neither did anyone else. After Amla was dismissed, South Africa needed the tail to eke out a small lead but with India having wiped it out and put themselves in a position to set South Africa a stiff target, the hosts may have concerns about batting last.
Still, Amla hedged his bets about whether it would remain this tricky, or get even worse for batting over the next three days. “You tell me. Are you asking about the future? How am I supposed to know that?”
But he conceded that the attack needs to be sharper on the third morning if they hope to keep the pressure on India. “We probably weren’t at our best, but that’s bound to happen. We have a quality bowling attack, but they played a few shots. There were also thick edges through the gully area to third man. That’s what happened in the first innings. Tomorrow, when we come back, if we hit our straps, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to score.”