Where have all the wins gone in first-class cricket?

02 November 2017 - 11:00 By Telford Vice
Michael Cohen of the Cobras celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Simon Harmer of the Warriors during day 2 of the Sunfoil Series 2017/18 Cricket match between the Cobras and the Warriors at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on the 17 October 2017.
Michael Cohen of the Cobras celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Simon Harmer of the Warriors during day 2 of the Sunfoil Series 2017/18 Cricket match between the Cobras and the Warriors at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on the 17 October 2017.
Image: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

By this stage of last season in franchise first-class cricket in South Africa‚ victory had been celebrated nine times more than it has a summer later.

Of the 15 matches played since the 2017-18 campaign started on September 19‚ only one has been won and lost. Just five of the first 15 games played last season ended inconclusively.

Thirty franchise first-class matches were played in all last season. Eleven were drawn — or only one more than in half as many games this summer.

Rain? Two days were washed out in last season’s first 15 games‚ five days this time around with play on another another limited to 28.3 overs.

But that doesn’t fully explain what’s happened. Perhaps timing really is everything.

Only once in the franchise era has the season started earlier‚ in 2009-10 when the first ball was bowled on September 17.

That didn’t stop six victories from being rung up in the first 15 games‚ albeit that three of them were achieved in November.

Even so‚ might the spring start to this summer be the major factor in the deluge of draws?

“That’s definitely played a role on the Highveld and at other inland grounds‚” Newlands groundsman Evan Flint said.

“Their grasses go dormant in the winter‚ so it takes a while for them to wake up.

“I’ve had a chat to those groundsmen‚ and their feeling was once you started preparing a pitch‚ after the second or third day of rolling‚ the grass was so thin and still so new that it wasn’t strong enough to deal with that.”

Flint admitted that‚ “My square is as fully-grassed as it’s ever been‚ so I don’t have that excuse.

“You beat yourself up a bit‚ and you’re disappointed when you’re into day four and you can see it’s going to be drawn.”

Like it was at Newlands two weeks ago‚ when the Cobras replied to the Warriors’ first innings of 347 by batting for 26 overs on the second day and all but six overs of the third day before declaring at 530/8.

Four centuries were scored in that match — among them Cobras opener Pieter Malan’s 195 — and Cobras left-arm fast bowler Michael Cohen was the only bowler to take five wickets in an innings‚ and at the cost of 107 runs.

“We prepared our normal four-day pitch where there was a bit of assistance for the bowlers‚ but it didn’t pan out that way‚” Flint said.

He consulted Cobras coach Ashwell Prince‚ and‚ “His sum-up to me was that the bowling was possibly not as consistent as it needed to be.

“It was hard work‚ but there was enough in the wicket that if you put 10 out of 12 balls in the right place you might have got something. Maybe the depth of the bowling is not quite there.”

Flint’s exception to what may be that rule was Vernon Philander‚ who took match figures of 5/44 off 30 overs for the Cobras against the Dolphins in Oudtshoorn last week.

“That showed that if you’re good enough to build up pressure you will get batsmen out that way as opposed to nicking them off all the time‚” Flint said.

South Africans could be a touch uneasy at all that‚ what with India due in South Africa in the new year.

Indian batsmen tend to struggle in South African conditions‚ just as South Africans have had their problems in India.

For many South Africans‚ there will be unfinished business from their team’s most recent test series to India in November 2015.

Perhaps stung by the visitors’ victories in the one-day and T20 series‚ the Indians prepared outrageously spin-friendly surfaces for the tests — one of which‚ in Nagpur‚ was subsequently condemned as “poor” by the International Cricket Council.

So‚ if South Africa’s pitches are friendlier than usual this time‚ what chance of their bowlers being able to extract payback?

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what kind of pitches we want to play India on‚” Flint said.

“Hopefully by then some of these issues will be sorted out: the grounds up country will have woken up by then.”

Except that the first test is scheduled for Flint’s own patch at Newlands‚ starting on January 5 …

“Let’s hope that on January 5 it’s flying past Virat Kohli’s nostrils‚” he said.

- TimesLIVE

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