Centurion, Cape Town pitches not good enough for Test cricket

The pitches in South Africa have come under plenty of scrutiny ever since India played at the Wanderers on a surface the ICC rated “poor”, and Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan coach, said on Friday that the surfaces used for the first two Tests of the current series hadn’t been “good enough for Test cricket”.

The second day of the Newlands Test saw several balls rear up from a good length. Faf du Plessis was struck on the gloves several times, requiring the attention of the physio, while Temba Bavuma copped a nasty one in the ribs, leading to a prolonged delay.

“I’m a little bit disappointed, to be honest,” Arthur said. “I haven’t been back to South Africa in a cricketing capacity since 2010 and the standard of the wickets – the wicket we had at Centurion and the wicket here – I think haven’t been good enough for Test cricket.

“It is inconsistent. I think there were seven stoppages today for balls that hit cracks and the physio came running out and we’re talking about day two. I understand that if it is happening on days four and five because that’s what happens in Test cricket: wickets deteriorate significantly and so they should, but it shouldn’t make your first innings a lottery, and I think that batting here in the first innings is extremely tough.”

The difficulty level of the pitch in Centurion attracted attention from both sides, with Dean Elgar declaring South Africa “the hardest place in the world to be an opener.” Fifteen wickets fell on a first day there that saw much variable bounce, with the match ending before tea on day three.

Here in Cape Town, Pakistan found themselves bowled out by tea on a spicy first-day surface, but it wasn’t until today that the unpredictable nature of the pitch began to reveal itself. As early as the third over, a Mohammad Abbas delivery jagged in sharply from outside off stump to take Hashim Amla’s leg stump.

“It was a challenging, tricky wicket,” said Bavuma, who scored 75. “Compared to SuperSport Park, this wicket was a bit quicker. It’s challenging, but definitely not impossible. As a batter, you’ve got to make peace with the fact that you’re going to get a few blows on the body. I wouldn’t call it dangerous. Faf [du Plessis] is still living, I’m still living.”

Even so, it might be worth noting the challenges of the pitch have disquieted Pakistan much more significantly than the hosts. Despite the supposed poor quality of the surface here, South Africa added 259 runs in 86 overs on a day unquestionably dominated by the bat, prompting suggestions that the issue may be more about the relative batting quality of the sides. Arthur, however, believed the pitches in South Africa used to be better in the past.

“I still believe in a good contest in Test cricket but, again, we aren’t at home so we don’t have a say. I do think the wickets have got significantly worse since I coached [South Africa] in 2010.”

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