India in South Africa 2013-14

Wanderers groundsman says no devils in track

Firdose Moonda

December 16, 2013

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A

Dale Steyn has Younis Khan caught by Graeme Smith in the slips, South Africa v Pakistan, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 2nd day, February 2, 2013
"We always try to have pitches with good pace and bounce but I am not doing anything fancy" © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: India tour of South Africa

The pre-series hype promised an intense clash that would overshadow the boardroom squabbles that have dominated headlines in the month leading up to India's tour to South Africa. It painted South Africa's pacemen as a pack of wolves, ready to tear into India's talented but young line-up and the ODIs went some way to confirming that.

India had minimal time to adjust to conditions and their batsmen, in particular, were exposed. They cowered against the short ball, pace and bounce. With the first Test scheduled at the Wanderers, there was expected to be more of the same. But hype can sometimes balloon over reality and India may have less to fear from the Johannesburg ground than it may seem.

Wanderers groundsman Chris Scott confirmed there is nothing sinister about the surface he is preparing for Wednesday. "We always try to have pitches with good pace and bounce but I am not doing anything fancy," he told ESPNcricinfo, rubbishing the notion that when a subcontinent team visits the country, he is under instruction to go green.

"It does not matter who is touring, I always follow the same formula and try to produce similar pitches to provide a good contest between bat and ball. I am just the stage manager. There's nothing I can do if the actors forget their words."

South Africa have a mixed recent record at the Wanderers though, and the ground is one of the better ones for India in the country - three matches at the venue in 1992, 1997 and 2006, have brought two draws and a win. India have not been bowled out for less than 220 at the Wanderers and they dismissed South Africa for 84 here in 2006.

What they had in those matches that they don't this time is a batting line-up filled with experience, with Sachin Tendulkar appearing in all three. His absence is what Morne Morkel thinks can be the difference this time. "They've got no Dravid, no Tendulkar - guys who can build an innings," he said. "Sachin was a guy that could bat time and put you under pressure over time. They've got guys now who can come out and be attacking, so we've got to watch for that."

With aggressive intent likely to be the Indian game-plan Scott is convinced India's next generation can perform in South African conditions. "I know the Indians have been concentrating on facing the ball coming up high so they may spring a surprise," he said. "It's going to be a good surface, it's just for the guys to perform on it."

Persistent rain over the last three weeks has not affected Scott's preparation at all. In fact, now that the weather has warmed up, Scott has ideal conditions to add the finishing touches to the strip. "The rain was good for me because it came well before I started preparing and now the weather has been fine," he said.

As summer finally descends on Johannesburg - with temperatures reaching 30 degrees on Monday - administrators are hopeful for a big crowd. The Wanderers has reported sales of more than 10,000 tickets for the opening day and average of 9,000 for every day after that, including the last.

They had a grand plan for one of those spectators to be Tendulkar. The Gauteng Cricket Board invited him to the Test but a source close to the officials said while Tendulkar expressed interest in attending, he had prior engagements he could not get away from.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by GRVJPR on (December 17, 2013, 16:11 GMT)

@bhushanB, When you are chasing 350 plus you need to rush. That was not test cricket where you can play for draw.

Posted by bhushanB on (December 17, 2013, 14:26 GMT)

@Srini_Chennai

Failure here is not the issue.... It is the lack of application, focus, determination to dig it out.... that is the issue....

For that matter.. the ODI wickets were not that unplayable... The IND batsmen just rushed at the shots.. before getting settled in...

Posted by Srini_Chennai on (December 17, 2013, 12:44 GMT)

As a die-hard Indian fan, I'm very curious to see the performances of our young players. Failure here should not trigger knee-jerk reactions or panic. After all, we've a very young team with little exposure to their conditions and most of all, playing world's #1 side in their backyard. SA hardly lost anything in last 2 or 3 years, so I wouldn't be shattered or shocked if India lose 2-0. But what I want is India to show fight and make SA earn their victory, if they're to win at all. The experience gained will be very useful in NZ and England. Best of luck to both teams!

Posted by Sir_Ivor on (December 17, 2013, 12:13 GMT)

I think it will be closer than is being made out. Just one good innings will set the trend and it could be in the first Test itself. The curator will not have a green top, whatever Mornie and Dale say. because India also has some good seam and swing bowlers. Zaheer Shami and Ishant/Umesh can be very good if they have a green top. So it will probably be out of common-sense that the Wanderers will have a good pitch to bat on. South Africa can then rely upon the genius of Steyn to work for South Africa. I look forward to a more equal match rather than what we saw in the ODIs which were disappointing but not truly displaying the merit of this India team. They may be young and spoilt but carry a lot of fight. South African batsmen have in the past been wary of good swing bowling. That could well be the strategy for India. Though Sachin Rahul and Laxman will be missed,I feel these youngsters will make a mark

Posted by   on (December 17, 2013, 11:50 GMT)

I realise that this might not be very relevant to the article or to cricket in general, but just one thing Firdose, your 'summer finally descends on Johannesburg' made me lol. We've been having splendid summer weather since August and didn't have much of a winter at all, summer has been here for ages. That aside, can't wait, will be attending, although expecting rain to play a major part in the match. And to the one or two crowing that this will be a South African whitewash, well, us SA supporters should know better than most that the magnificent game of cricket is unpredictable, and even though your team is better than ice cream and their talent and stats seem immeasurable, life doesn't always follow the numbers. Also excited to see this young Indian team start off their away test careers! Really just hoping for two splendid suspenseful tests where both teams perform admirably but South Africa do come out tops... Anyway, best of luck to India, and most of all to South Africa :)

Posted by Unomaas on (December 17, 2013, 8:39 GMT)

I have to agree with Leggie. Words like "Exposed" and "Cowered" are a little bit to strong especially given that the Indian's had no practice time. Sure, those words can be associated with Dale but he is a freak and most probably an alien from another planet so he doesn't count!

The real test will be the test matches when the Indians take what they have learned and attempt to apply it to their batting. If they get rolled, then by all means ransack the Oxford dictionary for apt adjectives to partner 'exposed' and 'cowered'.

Posted by Rags57 on (December 17, 2013, 8:01 GMT)

I get the feeling too much is being made of the pace and bounce in the track and of Steyn and co Did India not win at Wanderers in 2006? It was SA who succumbed to pace and swing of Sreesanth and Zaheer. Did India not win at Perth in the face of monkey gate? It was Ishanth who squared up one of the best players of fast bowling - Ricky Ponting then. Even in 2010 we had Kalls and DeVilliers get out to some brilliant bowling by Sreesanth. Add to that Smith's lack of success against Zaheer, I believe we have a very interesting proposition. I believe a combination of Zaheer, Shami Ahmed and Umesh Yadav could turn out to be more than a handful for the SA batsmen. I also believe that the Indian batsmen have the temperament to do well against the SA pace attack. Dhoni's leadership will inspire them. Chak De India and prove to the distractors that we can win in SA even with an inexperienced (but talented and committed) side.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2013, 6:28 GMT)

way back in australia post historic eden garden feat, when all teams were being smothered by aussies, indian batsmen still managed to draw series in Australia. a comment by Mcgraw i think is worth mentioning: on the pitch, indian batsmen behave monklike meaning they show great concentration in face of hostile bowling. we need some monks in this team too if we want to compete in hostile conditions.

Posted by himanshu.team on (December 17, 2013, 6:13 GMT)

I still think the biggest factor was downplayed by both Morkel and curator: pace and bounce.

Indian batsmen could play swing in England this summer as it was not as fast as in SA. Add to that extra and steep bounce, and it becomes a real challenge for India.

There are critics like "dexter_the_killer" who rightly think that India have not proven themselves on fast and bouncy pitches. I still believe on the quality of Indian batters to overcome these challenges, but they need to convert promise to action, talent to results if they really want to be a force to reckon with in near future.

Posted by dexter_the_killer on (December 17, 2013, 4:30 GMT)

@GRVJPR: You guys still don't admit that you are not competitive in fast and bouncy tracks. If we look at the record, we can see that SA have won 05 test matches out of 10 test matches played in India. Even SA managed to win a series in India. And how many test matches have been won by India played in SA, let alone a series? And now that India don't have quality test spinner they will be hammered by SA even in their own condition.

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