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The pitch curator's dilemma

When any cricket team readies itself to tour a foreign country, there is a general and pretty accurate expectation of the conditions that they will encounter. Preparing adequately is then the team’s challenge as the said conditions sometimes differ greatly from what their players have become accustomed to. This is not in any way strange as cricket sides will play most of their cricket on home soil and are expected to fare better in their own back yard.

Before the Proteas’ second test match against Pakistan at Newlands in Cape Town there was a lot of talk about the pitch being drier than normal and so favouring the opposition who possess a particularly good and effective off-spinner rather than the particularly skillful seam attack of the South African team.

The expectation of many, after the way in which the Pakistanis struggled against the moving ball up in Johannesburg, would have been a surface that assisted the fast bowlers more than it would spin bowlers. In the previous three test matches this has surely been the case with Vernon Philander wreaking havoc on South Africa’s opponents. Instead, Pakistan would have been licking their lips.

The most ideal and satisfying victory for any side is probably the one where there are clearly identifiable treacherous and potentially defeating moments that were avoidable because of a lot of mental fortitude, skill and a little bit of luck. Some tough physical exertion would be necessary too at the end of which team mates would sit in their little spaces of the change room pleasantly weary and happy with the work they had just completed. One other requisite would be that all in the team have played a significant part, however small.

To have all of that happen, generally would mean a long game which would come to an end on the fifth day and perhaps sometime towards the close of play. Honestly speaking, for a player, as long as the victory comes about it really does not matter how long or how short. For venue administrators though, it is very important to have a match that lasts as close to five days as possible so that none of the money spent putting on “the event” goes to waste; some time after the tea sandwiches and cakes ordered for day five have been consumed would be about right.

The wishes of those responsible for the organisation of the test match at the venue will no doubt be impressed upon the person in charge of the most important aspect of the venue, the pitch. The curator will no doubt get wind of what the home team would like (sometimes teams are more blatant) and then work from there. There are times when those wishes are provided and other times when the wishes of the team are not in line with those of the administrators.

I believe that despite coming through the test match with a victory, South Africa had their home advantage thrown out of the window when the prepared strip in Cape Town was drier than on the previous three times that the Proteas had played there and done so well. One can to some degree understand the issues of those who work at various grounds and lose money each time that day four and five aren’t reached, but where does one draw the line? Is it fine to reduce the chances of the home team winning by preparing a pitch that “will get the match to day 4 and 5”?

As it turned out, the Newlands test match was a great one to watch and the South African team was severely tested by Saeed Ajmal and the rest of the Pakistan team. They had to call on great skills to ensure that Pakistan did not have a substantial first innings lead and had some luck (the ball change) in also ensuring that Pakistan did not get too many runs in the second innings. What was great to see was a victory attained in a different fashion to what South African cricket followers have become used to seeing, showing that the Proteas are not necessarily one dimensional.

It is on to SuperSport Park in Centurion and with pitches there generally bouncy and fast, it will most likely be back to watching the fast bowlers at work again which in itself is pretty enjoyable.

Pakistan will have to raise their standard yet again as their efforts, though better in Cape Town, were not sufficient to topple this rather strong South African test side...they can raise it and despite their losses have been exciting to watch.

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