Embarrassing Wanderers fiasco can't be repeated

Lloyd Burnard
Lloyd Burnard

Johannesburg - South Africa and their frank captain, Faf du Plessis, have been holding onto what happened in India in 2015 for a while now. 

The Proteas were smashed 3-0 in a four-match Test series on wickets that made batting against spin extremely difficult, and near-impossible at times. The backlash saw the Indian conditions come in for heavy criticism, and the South Africans rightly felt hard done by.

There is no doubt that this series, even if the players wouldn't admit it, was about revenge for the hosts. They wanted to make things right after 2015, and Du Plessis made it clear that he would request pitches that would give his side as much of an advantage of possible. 

He got what we wanted in Cape Town, but was let down by the slow wicket at Centurion and then looked on as the Wanderers flirted with the possibility of seeing the third Test abandoned. 

Whatever happened in that conversation between Du Plessis, Proteas management and the Wanderers curators, it didn't work. 

The wicket was embarrassing. 

One of the fundamentals of Test cricket is that it provides an intense battle between bat and ball, but that did not happen in Johannesburg. 

There were a few very special knocks from Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar, but in general ball dominated bat throughout. 

The ICC will decide exactly what punishment is taken, and if they deem that the wicket was 'unfit' for Test cricket, then the Wanderers could lose international cricket for a year. 

That is unlikely to happen because the match was in fact completed, but that in no way should that detract from how poor the wicket was. 

Late on day three, it was decided that conditions were too dangerous for play to continue, and that is unacceptable for a Test match venue. 

Exactly why the wicket was then deemed safe overnight is anybody's guess (it may have had something to do with South Africa’s willingness to finish the Test and avoid sanction), but it highlights the fact that the whole process was handled terribly. 

In fact, the umpires and match referee could not have handled it worse. 

Discussions around the wicket and the threat it was posing the batsmen were taking place throughout day three when Murali Vijay was being peppered, but at no point during that onslaught did the umpires decide that play needed to be stopped. 

Then, when Dean Elgar was smashed in the face with 19 minutes left on Saturday, they took that call.

If the wicket was deemed that dangerous, then the umpires should not have waited for somebody to be knocked out before calling it. It is their job to protect the players, and they should have taken action before it reached that point. 

By leaving the field, the umpires opened the gates for a world of criticism to be launched Wanderers' way. Had they stuck it out for 19 more minutes, and continued on Saturday as they eventually did, then much of the drama could have been avoided. 

Either the match needed to be abandoned as soon as it became clear that the wicket was unfit for Test cricket, or play should have continued uninterrupted. Neither of those things happened, and it led to a situation that reeked of unprofessionalism. 

Home countries will always prepare wickets to their liking, but whatever strip is delivered still needs to meet certain criteria. There has to be some balance between bat and ball, and the safety of the players needs to be ensured. The Wanderers missed both of those marks. 

The revenge game is all becoming a bit childish.

The bubbly Indian media on this tour have been open about how embarrassed they were when Nagpur dished up a wicket that resembled a sand-pit more than a cricket strip.

We now know that feeling.

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24. 

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