TELFORD VICE, Mohali
IF the first test between India and SA was being played at St George’s Park, groundsman Adrian Carter would have been fired by now. Or burnt in effigy. Probably both.
But the first test is being played at Mohali, where the groundsman, Daljit Singh, who has been in the business for more than 30 years, can expect to keep his job for however much life he has left considering he is 73.
At stumps on the second day on Friday 22 wickets had fallen in the match, 18 of them to spinners, and India were 125/2 in their second innings – a lead of 142.
That may already be a big enough to earn the edge going into the next match in Bangalore next Saturday, especially as Dale Steyn has yet to bowl in India’s second innings and may not do so at all.
“I think he’s struggling,” SA spin consultant Claude Henderson said. “I think he’s got a groin strain and I can’t see him bowling tomorrow.”
Considering the pitch, Steyn may be quietly happy with that.
Surfaces should and do favour the home side. That is part of what sets cricket apart from lesser sports. However, the degree to which this should happen is another discussion.
From the first session of this match the pitch took fast bowlers out of the game and made batting a matter of survival more than anything else.
And that’s the best of it. The worst of it is that this pitch tells us India are running scared of taking on South Africa on anything like level terms.
But before we look up Law 42 and its stipulation on what, exactly, constitutes unfairness, consider that much the same thing could be said about the first test of India’s series in SA in December 2010.
That Centurion pitch was as green as a Springbok jersey. India lost the toss and were bundled out for 136 in 38.4 overs with Steyn and Morne Morkel taking eight wickets between them. SA won by an innings after tea on the fourth day.
And there were no complaints from the Indians.
“How many of the Indian journalists actually know the name of the curator in Johannesburg or Port Elizabeth,” off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who took 5/51, asked pointedly on Friday. “But we seemed to get the hang of Daljit Singh very quickly.
“None of us go to SA and say the grass is actually less green at the bottom or it’s a little straw coloured at the top.”
Henderson concurred: “I wasn’t surprised when I saw the wicket. It’s good tactics by India, preparing a wicket like that.
“It’s exciting to see spin take wickets. If you ask our batsmen it’s not a nice wicket. But if I was the Indian coach I would probably do the same.”
So there. Now can we all get over the pitch already.
In fact, between the superb bowling of India’s spin trio of Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra, and SA’s attempts to hit rather than play themselves into the lead or even stay in the game, there was no mystery why the visitors lost eight wickets for 156 runs in 48 overs on Friday.
Dean Elgar, having taken four wickets on Thursday and then grafted hard to survive to stumps, threw it all away on Friday morning with a heave against the turn of an Ashwin delivery to slice a catch to backward point.
“I had a wonderful time watching him on Youtube last night,” Ashwin said. “I made a point of telling him it’s not Johannesburg, unfortunately. I saw it coming, I knew he was going to play that shot.”
Elgar’s 37 took him 123 balls and lasted two-and-a-half hours. The only other SA batsmen to show some stickability were Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.
The Indians, though, got it right. They lost Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay either side of tea but took few risks and were rewarded with what should be the matchwinning advantage.