Faf du Plessis has called on Cricket South Africa (CSA) to put in place a process to ensure a pitch like the SuperSport Park surface during their second Test against India is not produced again. Though South Africa won the match comfortably, and in so doing claimed a series victory over India, a traditionally spicy track proved slower than usual and even took turn - the one thing du Plessis had expressly said he did not want in this series.
"I was very concerned when I got here, leading up to the Test match. It didn't look like the Centurion wicket that I know. That is a concern, to be honest. I am very honest about good things and when we get it right but it's also fair to comment on where we can get better. I believe this was an opportunity that we missed," du Plessis said.
"We can blame the groundsman but we also have to blame ourselves. We can have processes where we make sure CSA has someone that looks after the groundsman to get the right kind of pitches - not make it ridiculous. We never wanted something ridiculous, we just wanted a pitch with pace and bounce. I think there is concern that we are not getting it right and this is not the first time. I can think of three or four occasions over the last 12 months. We need to be better as a collective. That's something I will be taking up and making sure we can improve."
The South African captain is the fifth member of the side, after Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Morne Morkel and Dean Elgar, to take issue with the SuperSport Park pitch but he also referred to other surfaces which have been similarly placid. The pitches against Bangladesh in September-October, in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein, were also slow, so much so that even the visitors were surprised by their similarity to subcontinental wickets. Though it is not always easy to get more sporting pitches in early season, du Plessis wants South African curators to make more of an effort to do so and they need look no further than Newlands for an example.
In the middle of the worst drought in the Western Cape in more than a century, Evan Flint managed to produce a surface with pace and bounce that facilitated seam movement. Flint, who is an experienced groundsman, had identified and been working on the surface for several months. Contrastingly, Byran Bloy at SuperSport Park, who visited Flint last week to see how things are done, was preparing his first Test pitch after being appointed in late 2016. He is expected to come under pressure over the lack of life in his strip.
Pre-match Bloy had promised he was not doing anything different from the norm and was expecting a slow start to the match, but that the strip would pick up pace as the game went on. That never really happened, which thwarted some of South Africa's plans. Still, their fast bowlers got most of the job done and their batsmen the rest, leaving du Plessis ultimately pleased with the outcome even though he admitted winning the toss was crucial.
"It was a big toss to win. We knew it was going to be lower but we didn't know it was going to take so long to that process and be so slow. It was important for us to, in that first innings, put a decent total on the board," he said. "I do feel we were 60 or 70 runs short from the position we were in just before overnight [on the first day]. Those few silly wickets was a bit of panic and we felt we were a little bit short but the next two or three days, the team responded beautifully and the bowlers were exceptional on a wicket that didn't offer a lot."
South Africa ultimately want pitches that give their quicks a lot more, so they can play to their strengths, especially against subcontinental sides. Finding that all around the country may not be possible but du Plessis hopes common ground can be reached. Currently, the groundsmen have an annual conference but, after du Plessis' reaction, CSA may look into appointing an overall manager for the international pitches.