South Africa domestic news October 19, 2014

Game called off due to dangerous pitch at Willowmoore Park

The pitch at Willowmoore Park has come in for scrutiny previously as well © Brendon Frost

Benoni's Willowmoore Park's status as an international venue could be under the microscope after a domestic one-day cup match between Titans and Knights was abandoned because of a dangerous pitch. This is the second time in five years a fixture has been called off at the venue, meaning CSA's board can recommend that the ground not be included in the roster of international matches in the season that follows.

According to CSA's administrative conditions clause 5.3, if a playing surface is deemed unsuitable for play, "CSA would have a range of options available to deal with its findings on the pitch in question, including the deduction of points from the home team, the imposition of a fine not exceeding R150,000 or both. A further option available is a recommendation to the Board that the ground in question be excluded from the next season's roster of International and/or Test matches."

Titans, who use Willowmoore Park as one of their two home grounds, have already been punished with points for the game awarded to Knights. Play was stopped after 19 overs with Titans on 45 for 3. At that stage, the umpires had already seen at least four incidents of inconsistent bounce and, in consultation with the match referee and captains, opted not to continue with the game.

"The new balls were jumping up and rearing quite badly and then it just got worse. By the 13th over, it was really bad," Barry Lambson, the match referee, told ESPNcricinfo.

Lambson went on to describe how medium-pacer Malusi Siboto hit both Henry Davids and Heino Kuhn on the arm before the first drinks break. "The umpires consulted but we carried on," Lambson said.

"After drinks, Theunis de Bruyn got a ball at about ankle height and then the next ball just took off. The same thing happened to Dean Elgar - one kept low and then the next one he had to swerve out of the way. The umpires consulted again and we decided it was too dangerous to continue. Someone could have been badly injured and we didn't want to wait for that. Bowlers who are not that quick where getting it to rear up. Imagine what Marchant de Lange could have done later."

Lambson has compiled a report which will be submitted to CSA - the board will decide on further action.

Under consideration will be that the groundsman informed the officials that he prepared the pitch in the "normal way", according to Lambson, and that little more than a fortnight ago Willowmoore Park hosted a fist-class match on what Lambson described as a "great wicket".

However, the venue has been problematic in the past too. In 2009, a four-day match was called off after seven overs because of unsuitable pitch. On that occasion, it was found that the surface had been overwatered and the bowlers were creating dents in the pitch. The points for the match were shared, which Titans coach Rob Walter would have preferred to see happen this time as well.

"If we're affected from a points point of view, that would be unfair. We just rocked up to play a game of cricket," he told journalists in Benoni. "The four-day wicket was great, and a few days later this happens."

While Willowmoore Park is not a regular host of international matches, with its last men's ODI played in March last year, it a common venue for practice matches for touring teams. Last year, unseasonably high rainfall meant it could not stage India's practice match.

It is not due to host any international games this summer but is scheduled for a significant number of domestic cricket games and one fixture involving an international side, which organisers will want to ensure it is properly prepared for. The ground will see two domestic twenty-over matches staged on November 21 and 26, the warm-up match between a South African Invitation XI and the touring West Indians in December, two domestic four-day games next January and March, and another one-day cup match on February 1.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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