Johannesburg – In the wake of another batting collapse by the Proteas the last thing supporters want to hear is excuses, but in the case of the defeat at the Gabba it’s worth considering what Australians have said about the pitch used for the first Test at the historic venue.
Ricky Ponting: “These are very, very good bowling teams, no doubt, but I don’t think that the batting teams are that bad.”
Matthew Hayden, who played his domestic cricket for Queensland at the Gabba said: “In my opinion, it started too green. And that’s from someone who has seen this (pitch) from a very young age. There is no need to make it so full of grass, such heavy grass content because it seamed too much.”
Steve Smith, who scored 36 and 6 in the Test said: “It was like there were different areas of moisture on the wicket, so some balls were taking divots and going slow off the wicket, others were hitting harder parts of the wicket and zinging through. So once those soft bits are hit, it creates some divots as well. You would‘ve seen a lot of the balls that hit the divots and either shot low or took off, so as a batter it’s very difficult to play against.”
Actually to be fair to him, the Gabba’s curator, David Sandurski, wasn’t happy with the pitch that he and his staff provided either. “The proof is in the pudding,’’ Sandurski told the Herald-Sun.
“The scorecards are there. You can’t deny it. It is obviously not good enough for a match of this magnitude. I am obviously disappointed. No one wants to have a two-day Test. All the signs in the preparation pointed towards it being a reasonable wicket. Two really good bowling line-ups have exposed every bit of that wicket that they could.’’
So while South Africa’s batting in the last few years has deserved criticism as has the defensive attitude some of the Proteas batters have adopted about their continued failure, for that first Test there were mitigating circumstances.
As Ponting’s comments make clear and even Marnus Labuschagne, who said Test cricket should evolve over four or five days, the Australians aren’t happy that the contest was lacking balance and competitiveness.
Test cricket, which is under increasing pressure from the popularity of the T20 format, needs to show the best of itself as often as possible and the Gabba didn’t provide that. Certainly these are two bowling attacks packed with so much talent, that neither needs as much help as they got in Brisbane.
It was a bad error on the groundstaff’s part, one for which they and the venue will pay a price. It’s a pity that the start of such a hotly-anticipated series was marred by a poorly prepared surface.