The good news from Mohali is that there is good news, and it isn’t event that South Africa’s spin attack took 15 wickets. It’s much better than that.
The good news is that there is no sulking and no moaning about unfair or unsporting tactics in the Proteas camp. There has been too much of that in the past. As Ravichandran Ashwin said after the second day, “blame the batsmen, not the pitch.”
South Africa knew what was coming months ago. Faf du Plessis confirmed three days before the Test that they knew what was coming. And apart from a single comment from Dean Elgar, no doubt a slip of the tongue, they have all stuck to their commitment that they would not even criticise, let alone apportion blame for their demise on the pitch. Elgar’s suggestion that it was “not a very good cricket wicket” was harmless at face value, but it came against a backdrop of more ‘baggage’ than he could even imagine.
It is hard to convince many people of the legitimacy of preparing a surface which so strongly favours a single aspect of the game – especially when they aren’t as proficient in delivering or receiving that skill. I wonder what Ivan Lendl would have to say about India’s tactics in preparing dry, broken pitches to favour their spinners.
Lendl reached 19 major tennis finals and won eight of them. He has a higher winning percentage at Wimbledon than anyone else, yet he never won the tournament. He was desperate to but just couldn’t get over the line. On clay he reigned supreme.
The obvious difference between tennis and cricket is that the surfaces are the same for all 128 individuals who start and are prepared the same each year, according to conditions, but a cricket pitch is still the same for the eleven players on each side. Except, of course, that one side gets to bat on it first before it starts crumbling into pieces of clay and dust.
India gambled on the toss, too, and won it. But could anyone really say the result would have been different if the coin had landed on the other side?
The home side will no doubt gamble again, and again, until the series is won – or lost. And that’s the point about gambling. It never works your way all the time. Working with such an under-prepared pitch is considerably less of a precise science than trying to prepare a “normal” pitch. They are impossible to predict. In Bangalore South Africa could win the toss and make 400 before the surface disintegrates.
That is why Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, and the rest of the senior players and management, will remain positive and keep believing in themselves. If the pitches in Bangalore, Nagpur and Delhi are all identical, and India win the toss each time, the series will go to the home side and South Africa’s unbeaten, nine-year tour of the world will be over. But those odds seem impossibly long ones for the home side to be banking on. The Proteas, under Amla’s calm leadership, will allow the wheel of fate to turn. And hope it turns in time.
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