No blood spilt at Wanderers, but plenty of drama delivered
Blood was spilled at the Wanderers on Friday, but not in the way that you might think.
A reporter misjudged the height of a step in pressbox and his consequent stumble put a small scratch in his leg.
“Nothing wrong with a bit of claret,” he quipped gamely as he rose and went in search of a tissue so as not to make a mess of the place.
But, if you believed what you saw, heard and read of some of the media coverage of the third test between South Africa and India, the Wanderers was awash with the red stuff. Or would be soon.
According to sources close to sources, the Bullring was living up to its nickname. The bulls — or batsmen — were dead. The matadors — or fast bowlers — were taking their bows, ears and tails in hand.
Except that all ears and tails stayed put. The closest anyone came to losing theirs was when Jasprit Bumrah bounced Dean Elgar at 5.09pm, midway through the ninth over of South Africa’s second innings.
The ball reared up as Elgar leapt and raised his bat in defence. Too little, too late: the round, red missile climbed above everything the batsman put in its way and hit him solidly on the grille of his helmet.
Off came the headgear to reveal a properly groggy face. But Elgar was on his feet, and there was no blood.
A salient fact was that the ball was pitched legitimately short.
Another was that Elgar didn’t play it as well as he might have; he took his eye off the delivery at the crucial instant.
Still another was that is was the only time in almost nine sessions of the match that a batsman had been hit on the helmet.
Even as medics were conducting concussion tests on Elgar, match referee Andy Pycroft was making his way down the stairs and onto the field.
After a short consultation with the umpires, Ian Gould and Aleem Dar, play was suspended.
Then the officials and the captains, Faf du Plessis and Virat Kohli, disappeared into a meeting room.
That was in accordance with the laws of cricket: “If the on-field umpires decide that it is dangerous or unreasonable for play to continue on the match pitch, they shall stop play and immediately advise the ICC [International Cricket Council] match referee.
“The on-field umpires and the ICC match referee shall then consult with both captains.
“If the captains agree to continue, play shall resume.”
Kohli would, of course, want to carry on. His team are nine wickets away from victory with two days left in the match and South Africa need 224 more runs to win in some of the most challenging batting conditions they will ever face.
Also, India’s captain would be justified in asking why the state of the pitch is an insurmountable problem now when it wasn’t for more than the first eight sessions of the match.
The future of the match remains in the balance, perhaps until Saturday morning.
From the start on Wednesday until an hour into the third session on Friday, physios had been called onto the field nine times; once for a blow to the ribs and seven times for thuds on the gloves, and then came Elgar.
Emphatic seam, swing and bounce are all part of the match’s thrilling equation.
Whether the pitch provides for a fair contest between bat and ball is another question, and the ICC will give us their answer after the match. For now, we have an enthralling game of cricket on our hands.
Cracks on the pitch have widened enough to become a factor in how the ball behaved after pitching. But they weren’t anything as alarming or alarmist as the cracks being made by the paid pundits in the commentary boxes upstairs.
Here at TMG Digital we prefer not to waste words on overpaid opinions. So we won’t trouble you with most of what was said.
But here’s a taste of it from a neutral, nogal, former West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding, who told ESPNCricinfo before lunch on Friday: “Two out of 100 — it’s a shit pitch. You can interpret that.
“They should have called it off when [Murali] Vijay got hit. This is not a cricket pitch, this is dangerous. Call it off, forget it. You can’t play cricket on that.
“I have no idea what has gone wrong but I know it’s not a good cricket pitch.
“The last time I saw something like this, the match was abandoned, in Jamaica in 1998. And it didn't even last this long.”
This is the 2 294th test, of which only two have been abandoned because of substandard conditions.
In the first test of England’s series in the Caribbean in January 1998, the Sabina Park pitch was deemed too dangerous after 61 balls had been bowled.
Only 10 deliveries had been sent down in the second test at the Vivian Richards stadium in Antigua in February 2009 when it was decided that the outfield was too sandy.
A halt was called after Fidel Edwards slipped, three consecutive times, as he tried to get into his delivery stride.
Neither of those matches, then, lasted anywhere near eight sessions. Did Holding voice anything like his views as expressed above after 61 or 10 balls had been bowled at the Wanderers, or at any stage of the first two days’ play?
Nevertheless, the theory that the umpires were considering calling off the match spread through the stadium like smoke from a braai gone badly wrong.
At lunch, as they were leaving the field, Gould and Dar spoke to groundsman Bethuel Buthelezi and his consultant, former groundsman Chris Scott.
Later, when deliveries seamed or swung or bounced excessively, the umpires conferred or went to stare sagely at the spot where the ball had pitched.
But there didn’t seem to be much indication that they would abandon the match, not least — as explained — because that authority doesn’t rest with them.
The ICC also make it clear that, “In no circumstances should the pitch ‘explode’.”
This one isn’t, but the suits might want to offer the same advice to the commentary box.