India's win at the Wanderers might have seemed like a matter of breaking one partnership in the final innings and running through the rest, but the " surprising " dampness on the pitch on the fourth morning left them fuming and made them work much harder for wickets than what they felt was par for the course.
A team source told ESPNcricinfo that the pitch on day four was the flattest out of all the days of the Test, which didn't make sense to them because the surface had got progressively difficult to bat on, to the extent that the umpires, worried about the players' safety, suspended play on the third evening. The team believes the dampness helped bind the pitch.
There had been heavy rain on the third night, which left the outfield wet and unfit for the usual 10am start, forcing play to begin at 11am. "The other thing they are worried about, which is interesting, is that the pitch is a little bit... just a slight bit of dampness on the top of the surface," Mike Haysman said in his report on SuperSport, announcing a delay in the start of play. "That's all. With a bit of sun, I guess there is no breeze... So just a slight bit of dampness on the top of the grass."
A Gauteng Cricket Board source told ESPNcricinfo: "The ground staff normally remove the covers by 7am but because of the rain they removed it later with the result that the normal sweating under the covers had not completely dried by 10am."
India feel this was more than normal sweating. "When we looked at the pitch first thing in the morning, it was wet," an India team source told ESPNcricinfo. "It was very wet to the touch."
India believe the dampness delayed the return of the pitch to its natural self. "The way the ball misbehaved after tea, it should have started that after the first half hour," the source said. TV experts also felt the pitch had become less unfriendly to bat on, with Sunil Gavaskar lying down on the pitch during the lunch break, suggesting it had gone to sleep.
On the first day, 25 balls beat the bat in the opening session of 27 overs according to ESPNcricinfo logs, 40 times in 25 overs on day two, 18 times in 23.5 overs on day three, and 12 times in 19.2 overs on day four. The first session of day four - truncated to 90 minutes - was the only one of the match without a wicket; the first sessions on the first three days consumed two, two and three wickets.
In the face of a "paata", a flat pitch, India say sealing victory came down to "our patience and our skill" , especially with the sun coming out late on day four . To the extent that, in the middle session, they rested it all on the second new ball. They wanted to have as many to defend when the second new ball became available. For the first time in the match, India used Hardik Pandya for a longer spell, and Pandya mostly bowled wide outside off, conceding 15 runs in six overs. When Pandya was done with his spell, South Africa needed 127, and the new ball was 31 overs away.
India were prepared to go all out with the new ball, but eventually things began to happen sooner. Ishant Sharma dismissed Hashim Amla to a catch to short midwicket, ending the only century-run stand of the match, worth 119 runs. About 15-20 minutes before tea, the uneven bounce became more pronounced, claiming AB de Villiers with a rising delivery before the break and Faf du Plessis with one that stayed low after it. Mohammed Shami then ran through South Africa's resistance.
It was a sticky situation for Cricket South Africa and GCB. After the suspension of play on day three, they were left hoping the pitch would not misbehave further because if play had been abandoned - although it might have saved the home team from a defeat - it would have resulted in heavy sanctions from the ICC, including no international cricket at their premier venue for a year. That also may have affected the sold-out Pink-Day ODI, scheduled on February 10. In the end, Wanderers got away with just a poor rating and three demerit points, keeping the rest of the cricket for the season.