Pitch and moan

how India sees SA

Right. Hashim Amla held on heroically but we’ve been thumped, to add to our hammering in the first Test and what was probably a stay of execution in the second. We’ve lost our first away series in nine years, and we’re pretty annoyed about it, because we didn’t lose to a cricket team. We lost to whichever suits ordered the pitches and the obedient groundsmen who prepared them.

India knew they couldn’t compete player for player so they went scorched earth, preparing these wickets in the hope that, in a low-scoring shoot-out, South Africa’s batsmen would be worse against unpredictable spin than theirs.

Of course, most people have seen through it. Michael from Australia was diplomatic…

Michael Clarke

…whereas Michael from England was less so…

Michael Vaughan

Such opinions have not gone down well with Indian fans, who have responded as maturely as they often do.

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Anyone accusing India of producing rubbish wickets has been called a crybaby and presented with the following argument:

Whenever we tour South Africa, you prepare green tops and your fast bowlers massacre us. So now it’s our turn. We’re going to prepare wickets that turn from the morning of day one because fair’s fair. And stop the ridiculous double standards. When we get bombed out by your quicks you say we can’t bat, but now that you’re getting rolled over it’s somehow the pitches’ fault? Grow a pair, South Africa.

You’ll see this view splattered across most of the internet, repeated by a surprising number of semi-respected pundits. Surprising, because it’s complete bullshit.

The facts simply don’t support it. The “South Africans are crybabies who can dish it out but can’t take it” argument boils down to the assumption that Indians can play spin but are uncomfortable against pace while South Africa can handle pace but aren’t happy against spin. Fair enough, and probably true on sporting wickets. But if the wickets were half decent, playing to India’s traditional strengths, wouldn’t we have seen India’s batsmen plaster South Africa’s modest spinners all over the park? Wouldn’t we have seen at least one of them make a hundred? Instead, all we’ve seen is India looking almost as nervous and unimpressive as South Africa. Virat Kohli, their star, has scraped 68 runs in 4 innings. In fact only two batsman – Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara – have managed to average in the 40s in the series so far. Almost 600 overs of Test cricket and just four half-centuries…

Indian fans and administrators can repeat all the affirming mantras they want but the figures don’t lie. Batsmen are getting massacred in this series, irrespective of their country or their ability to play Test cricket.

And that’s because the pitches ordered by the BCCI haven’t been cricket pitches. They’ve been long strips of clay held together by the nocturnal erotic emissions of spin bowlers.

Historically, the greatest spinners, bowling in their favorite conditions against their most helpless opponents, have usually taken a wicket every 7 or 8 overs. Shane Warne made his reputation humiliating Englishmen in England, but it was in Sri Lanka where he committed some proper atrocities, striking every 39 deliveries. Muttiah Muralitharan was also more or less unplayable in Sri Lanka, claiming a victim every 43 balls at his favourite hunting ground at Kandy.

In the current series, Imran Tahir has taken a wicket every 26 balls.

Imran Tahir.

The guy who can’t buy a wicket on South African pitches has taken his sticks at twice the rate Muralitharan managed on his favourite, tailor-made ground.

The rest? Just as silly. Ravichandran Ashwin has taken one of his 24 wickets every 25 balls. Ravindra Jadeja has taken one every 31 balls. Even Dean Elgar has taken 5 for 63 in 19 overs.

So. These figures trash any claims by Indian fans that these are sporting pitches and that South Africa just aren’t any good at playing spin.

But what of their claims that this is justifiable “revenge” for the seaming monsters their team has to face in South Africa?

To check this, I looked at every Test in which India has been shot out for under 200 in South Africa, and here’s what I found.

Durban, 1996.
The bloodbath that gave rise to India’s notion that South Africa produces unsporting green tops. India was evaporated for 100 in the first innings and 66 in the second. It was pure carnage. But was the pitch impossible to bat on? Andrew Hudson seemed to manage, with 80 in the first innings and 52 in the second. Adam Bacher got 55, Brian McMillan 51. Hell, Allan Donald made 26. South Africa’s two scores of 235 and 259 (and ten wickets in the match for Venkatesh Prasad) suggest that this surface offered considerable help to good seamers, but an unsporting spitting cobra? No.

Cape Town, 1997.
India were gunned down for 144 in their second innings, but it had nothing to do with a pitch that had produced showers of runs. After South Africa racked up 529 for 7 (with hundreds for Gary Kirsten, McMillan, and 102 off 100 balls from Lance Klusener), India replied with 359, including exhilarating tons from Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin. The cause of India’s dismal second innings? Good seam bowling from South Africa and bad batting from India. Not the pitch.

Durban, 2006.
Again, India succumbed in their second innings, managing only 179. And again, it was a dismal performance on a pitch that had offered a great contest between bat and ball. Ashwell Prince had made 121 in South Africa’s first dig, backed up by fifties from Herschelle Gibbs and Mark Boucher, while the South Africans had declared on 265 for 8 in their second dig. The culprit? Bad batting by India. The pitch? Acquitted

Cape Town, 2007
Dale Steyn took 4 for 30 to smear India all over Newlands, dismissing the tourists for 169. A spiteful pitch? Nope. Just a great fast bowler working over batsmen making bad decisions.  India had looked imposing in their fist innings, Wasim Jaffer’s 116 helping them to 414. They still managed to lose the Test though, and they had nothing to blame except themselves. Pitch? Acquitted.

Centurion, 2010.
Centurion, people. Cen-fucking-turion. The most batsman-friendly wicket in South Africa. And still, India managed to get put through the wood-chipper, dismissed for 136 in their first innings thanks to a Morne Morkel five-for. South Africa then proceeded to do the wild monkey dance all over the visitors, racking up (the following my disturb sensitive viewers) 620 for 4. Kallis made 201*, Amla 140, and AB de Villiers pulped 129 off 112. A real snake-pit, right? Just to prove there were no demons in this famously friendly pitch, Tendulkar and Dhoni then helped India to 459 in their second innings – a huge score and still an innings defeat. The pitch? Gloriously acquitted.

And that, boys and girls, is every instance in which poor, persecuted India were cruelly ambushed on South Africa’s unsportingly green pitches.

In short, Indian fans can go suck it. There is no tit-for-tat pitch war happening. There’s just South Africa, preparing pitches that reward seam bowling and disciplined strokeplay, and there’s India, preparing a steaming pile of horse manure.

*Drops mic. Onto an Indian Test pitch. Mic goes through surface, deviates by 30 degrees, spits up in a puff of dust, takes the shoulder of the bat.*

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16 comments

  1. Your logic is flawed. When India tours countries like Eng, SA and Aus they dish out green tracks because Ind lacks quality seam bowlers. Similarly, the thinking behind Ind preparing these turning tracks is because SA lacks quality spinners.

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    1. Wow. The whole article is a response, with statistical support, to exactly this stupid argument. You must not have read beyond the second sentence.

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  2. great article bud. enjoyed it to my utmost pleasure. Ban any moaning indians from this forum who can go roll in those plastered cow-dungs for all I care.

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  3. An excellent analysis of the situation .The details of India’s ” destruction ” in SA speaks volumes for the real scenario.Thanks for this article

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  4. Nice to see all seven people who still follow South African cricket gathered in one place. Now we just need to convince Cricket South Africa to arrange for the game to be played on grounds the size of a dinner table and we’ll once again see full houses at local test matches.

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      1. You know those people are not there to watch cricket. They are there to drink beer out of plastic cups and wear watermelon shells on their heads. If the seats weren’t pointing them in the general direction of the field they probably wouldn’t realise there was cricket going on at all.

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  5. Your conclusion needs no so-called statistical support because your underlying assumption is that a proper pitch should result in five days of cricket.

    Why?

    Arguably, flat tracks inviting 500+ scores, double centuries, and draws is exemplary of a poor pitch. The Indian pitched were result oriented. And it’s hard to escape the reality that India and SA played on..breaking news..the same pitch.

    Also, test #4 speaks for itself to debunk your conspiracy theory.

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    1. “Result orientated”. You’ve got a future in politics. As for whether a Test should last 5 days, well, you raise a great point. Maybe they should all last 3 days. Or 2 days. Hell, why not 1 day? Too long? How about 20 overs? (Are you getting turned on? Are you? I am.) Also, full marks for your straw man argument re 500+ scores and draws. And as for Test #4, it hasn’t debunked any theories. In fact it’s done the opposite. It proved that India can prepare good pitches, and beat good opposition fair and square without having to resort to pitch-doctoring. The Delhi pitch showed up the others for the dross they were.

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      1. Those extreme hypothetical scenarios (2 days, 1 day, 20 overs) don’t fall within the same category of the Indian pitches for the first three tests. So we’re left with your somewhat arbitrary line-drawing at 3 days.

        It’s only unfair if there’s some imbalance between the sides in a manner that affects the outcome. Some examples of imbalance are (1) home umpires’ bias for home teams; (2) a rule change in the middle of a game; (3) allowing home fans to walk in front of the sight screen to distract opposition batsmen.

        Here, your argument may be that Indian batsmen are groomed to play on these pitches, so that’s an unfair (imbalance-type) advantage to doctor a pitch to suit them so much that the visitors don’t even have a fighting chance. This may be the set of facts coloring your REAL argument, but you’re not expressing it in a forthright way.

        So let’s just take this in a direction where this argument should go: the rules of cricket.

        What are the set of laws/rules for the sport which constrain what home teams can and can’t do with the pitch? Surely, they cannot tamper with the pitch by having fast bowlers run on it. There’s a rule for that. The umpires are supposed to enforce that rule.

        Is your grievance with Indian groundskeepers/administration playing within the rules? Or is your grievance the absence of rules? Or the lack of enforcement of the rules?

        I don’t know the rules. Evidently, the ICC is investigating the Nagpur pitch. I don’t know the ICC’s scope of sanctions; at the limit, maybe they could strip India of a win or the entire series.

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      2. So for all the whining you did about the Nagpur pitch, what’s the latest excuse from your excuse factory for the Durban loss?

        Just face the facts – on home pitches or away, the South African team is fundamentally weak.

        Stop making excuses for a crappy team.

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      3. I don’t remember writing any defence of the South African cricket team. In fact, if you read my cricket writing (which you clearly don’t) you’d know that I’ve been highly critical of this team for over a year. I also think if you count to five, take a deep breath, and re-read my blog post, you’ll discover it was a criticism of three of the Indian pitches in which I pointed out that both teams battled to score on substandard surfaces.

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