Proteas prepare to avenge embarrassment against India with ‘revenge pitch’
You had to feel sorry for Murali Vijay and Vernon Philander at Newlands on Wednesday. Between them they have played exactly a century of tests‚ scored 4,896 runs — among them 11 centuries and 22 half-centuries — and taken 174 wickets‚ featuring two 10-wicket-hauls and 11 five-wicket bags.
Philander has been ranked the top bowler in the game‚ Vijay as high as 11th among batsmen.
Despite all that hard-earned achievement‚ just about all a roomful of reporters wanted to talk to them about was something that won’t answer any questions until the first ball of the series is bowled at 10.30am on Friday.
It’s the pitch‚ stupid.
Much has been made of SA wanting to avenge the defeats they suffered on the shocking surfaces prepared on their tour to India in November 2011, and the fact that India have brought five fast bowlers and an all-rounder to SA to try to fight the anticipated fire with fire.
There is the presumption that India’s batsmen are much improved against quality quicks‚ although that doesn’t stand up next to the truth that India haven’t played any of their last 31 tests — which takes us back to Sydney almost two years — on anything that could be called a fast-bowler’s pitch.
Such was the media’s obsession with the state of the pitch that Wednesday’s only real news — that Ravindra Jadeja, the third-highest ranked bowler in cricket, had been hospitalised with a viral infection — went unmentioned.
Then again‚ Jadeja is a left-arm spinner. That‚ by the logic of much of the above‚ will make him a pitiful non-entity on the Pitch From Hell. Better for him that he stay in bed until the game ends.
To be fair to the obsessives, the surface did glint greenly from under its cover‚ and the grass was longer than has been seen on a surface here for many a Test. Longer than in November 2011‚ when Philander made his debut against Australia and took 5/15 in their second innings of 47 — which followed SA’s first innings of 96.
"That wicket was probably a little bit different to this one‚" Philander said. "That wicket looked a lot more flat."
Vijay was reminded of Graeme Smith’s dictum that SA was the most difficult place in the world in which to open the batting‚ and that Smith said that‚ many times‚ despite not having to face his own attack in match situations.
"My learning is better than his‚" Vijay shot back with a smile.
Philander has dismissed Vijay once in the three Tests they have played against each other — at Kingsmead in December 2013, when Smith snaffled him at first slip.
Dale Steyn has got the Indian opener three times in six Tests‚ but Steyn’s selection for Friday’s match is not assured.
But another‚ more likely‚ member of SA’s attack has dismissed Vijay more than anyone: six times in eight games. Better yet‚ he’s done it in varying conditions — twice in Nagpur and once each in Kolkata‚ Dehli‚ Durban and Johannesburg.
His name is Morne Morkel‚ and he’s in the form of his life.
However much the Indians may be better at dealing with fast bowling‚ they’re going to have their work cut out against the Vereeniging Viper, not to mention Kagiso Rabada‚ the Joburg Jet.
Welcome‚ Mr Vijay‚ to the sharp tip of Africa.