TELFORD VICE, Delhi
THE Ferozeshah Kotla is not cricket’s most handsome ground. It has neither the sweeping grace of the Brabourne in Mumbai, the Zen garden serenity of University Oval in Dunedin nor the quintessential quaintness of St George’s Park.
Grim stone walls three metres high and solid steel gates, painted a foreboding black, five metres long seal the Kotla from the world.
The stark concrete shell of the pavilion resembles the underside of a decomposing thorax shed by some giant insect.
But Adrian Birrell liked the look of what he saw on Tuesday.
“I don’t think this one will go three days,” SA’s assistant coach said. “It looks like it will last a lot longer than that. We’re happy with what we see.”
Birrell was talking about the Kotla pitch being prepared for the fourth test against India on Thursday.
Rain allowed only one day’s play in the second test in Bangalore, but three days each was all it took to complete the first and third tests in Mohali and Nagpur.
India won those games by more than 100 runs to claim the series and end a streak of nine years in which SA have not lost an away rubber.
Mohali offered ripping turn as did Nagpur, where a dash of inconsistent bounce was added to the witching brew.
SA’s batsmen have floundered in what Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis have called the toughest conditions they have yet encountered.
However, Birrell tried hard to convince the assembled press – and perhaps himself – that the story of the series was not being written by the surfaces on which it is being played.
“We’re in India, so we expect the pitches to turn. We just haven’t played good cricket up until now.
“We’re not complaining at all. We relish the opportunity, but we haven’t played to our full potential.”
Whatever the conditions, SA would welcome back Dale Steyn, who because of a groin strain last bowled in anger on the first day of the series in Mohali 28 days ago.
What are his chances of playing?
“We need him 100% fit,” Birrell said. Steyn had a fitness test on Tuesday and will undergo another on Wednesday.
A bigger presence by SA’s champion bowler could have offset the impact made by off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who owns 24 of the 50 wickets the visitors have lost.
That the series has been won by Ashwin, left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja and leg spinner Amit Mishra – who have taken all but three of that half-century of wickets – is as obvious as the Kotla is ugly, but Birrell explained that addressing that challenge was not simple.
“India have three very good spinners and they’ve put us under pressure,” Birrell said. “So we are trying to do very specific training.
“We put the stumps further back (in the nets) and try and use the rough that’s there to try and simulate what we’re going to get in the match.
“We’re quite fortunate in that we’ve got (spin consultant) Claude Henderson, who throws left-arm spin – he used to bowl left-arm spin.
“I’m an old leg spinner and I bowl from about 15 yards to simulate (Amit) Mishra. I’m not even close but we’re trying.
“And then we’ve got other guys who throw off-spinners to try and simulate Ashwin.
“Unfortunately we’re not quite as good as Ashwin.”