Better than expected, but hardly ideal - Arthur
Amid the various criticisms of the pitch, it cannot be denied that it has provided the most gripping contest of the series. At the end of two days the match could not have been more in the balance, with India having gained a slender lead, but facing the prospect of having to bat last. Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, said he could understand India's strategy of playing to their strengths in a must-win game.
"Even we would have left a lot of grass on South African wickets in this situation. We would have played to our strength," said Arthur. "We had expected India to prepare a wicket like this. In a funny sort of way a wicket like this will provide a very exciting result."
That said, Arthur reiterated the while track wasn't as bad as he had expected, it wasn't an ideal one for Tests. "There's always something happening on this wicket, it's a day-five wicket on day two," he said. "This has played a little better than expected, but not ideal for Test cricket."
What the South African camp won't be complaining about, though, is the help their seamers were able to extract. In hot and dry conditions - something that was expected to tip the scales in India's favour - their fast bowlers put up a much better show than what their Indian counterparts had done on Friday. Apart from a brief period when they lost a bit of their rhythm against left-handers Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh, India's batsmen never looked comfortable against them. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel made sure they were bowling in channels where unpredictable bounce would trouble the batsmen.
"A part of our decision-making was whether we should go for two spinners, but we went for our young group of bowlers," said Arthur, "and the seamers have got quite a bit out of the wicket. Going on it will be very difficult to play the seamers in the second innings."
Paul Harris' figures might suggest he was the weak link, but he was up against Ganguly and VVS Laxman in sublime touch. Ganguly, especially, once set, was contemptuous to his left-arm spin. But before that there were edges that didn't go to hand, there were times when he beat the batsmen completely with either variable bounce or big turn, but saw the ball just missing the stumps. "On another day, Harris would have picked up five wickets with the way he bowled," said Arthur. "He bowled some wicket-taking balls, was comfortable with the way he bowled. He is still young in Test cricket, and will grow by leaps and bounds."
The game, now, is beautifully set. South Africa will be banking on the fact that they will have the last use of this pitch. Arthur said the lead had put India 2-3% ahead of them. He said any target above 150 would be difficult for India to get, but they are not thinking that far as of now. As Arthur said, "We need to get that last wicket ASAP [as soon as possible]."
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo