A Cricketing Massacre at Johannesburg? — Reflections

After all, it was Pollock’s reference to “leopard spots” and a filmic-reproduction showing the number of balls at specific heights which the Saf batsmen had played at and missed (quite a number) which pointed to the weighty influence of the pitch by highlighting the imprint of luck – a whisker here and a whisker there being the difference between snick and miss.

by Michael Roberts
 
( January 19, 2017, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka’s recent defeat by an innings within three days at “The Bullring” — as the New Wanderer’s Ground in Johannesburg is known among locals — may seem devastating even though I, for one, was expecting them to fare badly in this match. This expectation was based on the Bullring’s reputation for pacey pitches as well as the past history of our teams in the Veldt. After all, in the First Test at Johannesburg in early November 2002 we lost by an innings and 64 runs scoring 191 and 130 in the face of the Saf total of 386 runs; while a little earlier on 20-22nd January 2001 Sri Lanka lost by an innings and 07 runs at the Centurion ground in the Transvaal region. In brief, our famous batsmen of yesteryear had also been swamped and shot out on the high elevation pitches of the Veldt.
So, the failure of the relatively inexperienced young batsmen last week looks less severe, and even “normal”, within this frame of comparison. But let me insert another set of factors that places their batting collapses in less severe light. The argument is tentative because it is from a couch afar and without the sort of expertise that Pollock, Haysman, Amold and Mwanga brought to the commentarial overview.
In the first place, South Africa won the toss, batted first and were able to mount a large score on the first day — courtesy of super batting from Duminy and Amla. While one would anticipate pace and bunce to be a major factor at the outset what transpired subsequently suggests – I stress that word “suggests” – that batting was easier on Day One than subsequently.
This conjecture develops from the fact that on the third day – as Sri Lanka collapsed in a heap — the commentators, with Shaun Pollock in the forefront, spoke of “leopard spots’ and “indentations” on the pitch. This characteristic, it seems, was inducing uneven bounce and pace. The implication was driven home to me when Kusal Mendis played back to Rabada and found the ball at face-frontal splicing off his glove and handle to gully.
The difficulties arising from this type of phenomenon on the 2nd and 3rd days of the match were more severe for the Sri Lankans than the Safs because the latter had two pacemen who were taller and faster than the Lankan quickies – referring here to Rabada and Olivier.
As proof of this speculative pudding, consider the number of wickets lost on the three days:
DAY ONE                   = Safs  03 ………………………………………. Total            03
DAY TWO                  = Safs 07 + SL 04                                                     11
DAY THREE               = SL 06    +  SL 10                                                    16
This is a tentative theory that does not deny the weaknesses revealed by the present team (not unlike their more reputed forebears) in the face of good fast bowling on pacey pitches. The simple test for this set of arguments is to have it placed before those wise men who were right there and saw pitch and outcome over three days: namely, Pommie M, Shaun P, Mike H and Russell Arnold.
After all, it was Pollock’s reference to “leopard spots” and a filmic-reproduction showing the number of balls at specific heights which the Saf batsmen had played at and missed (quite a number) which pointed to the weighty influence of the pitch by highlighting the imprint of luck – a whisker here and a whisker there being the difference between snick and miss. Add height at which ball arrives and then one begins to get the message: batting is a difficult art in such conditions in the face of tall pacemen who generate speed and bounce.
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