The Wanderers pitch has been rated “poor” by the ICC for the third Test between South Africa and India, which saw heavy criticism from the cricket fraternity. As a result, Wanderers has received three demerit points, which will hang over the venue for a rolling five-year period.
One of South Africa’s premier cricket grounds, Wanderers has escaped an immediate ban. But if the venue reaches a total of five demerit points during the five-year period, it will be suspended from hosting any international cricket for 12 months.
The “poor” rating was given by match referee Andy Pycroft who stated: “The pitch prepared for the final Test was a poor one. It had excessively steep and unpredictable bounce, and excessive seam movement.
“It deteriorated quickly as the match progressed, which made batting extremely difficult and hazardous, resulting in the medical staff from both the sides having to come onto the field of play multiple times to treat their batsmen.
“As the on-field umpires are also responsible for the players’ safety, they expressed concerns about the behavior of the pitch, and debated after day three if it was appropriate to continue the match. In the end, the umpires made the decision to continue and the Test reached its natural conclusion on day four. However, there was still excessive variable bounce and seam movement when the Test match ended.”
The threat hanging over Wanderers will mean groundsman Bethuel Buthelezi could have to re-evaluate his penchant for preparing spicy surfaces for Test cricket, the most recent one at the request of the South African team. Tests for the last three years at Wanderers have not gone to five days with the ones against England in 2016 and Sri Lanka in 2017 lasting only three days each.
The recently completed Test went to a fourth day but was marred with controversy after players were taken off the field on the third afternoon so the umpires could consult with the match referee about the safety of the surface after Dean Elgar was hit on the helmet. Several other batsmen from both sides took body blows thanks to exaggerated movement and variable bounce over the course of the Test but Elgar’s blow looked serious enough to prompt action. He was tested for concussion and suffered no serious damage, even returning to top-score the following day, but Elgar believed the Test should have been called off earlier.
No other player took such a strong stance, with India’s captain and vice-captain, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, both saying they found it challenging but not dangerous. South Africa’s captain Faf du Plessis distanced himself from the surface and insisted he had only asked for pace and bounce, not grass while emphasising that he was disappointed groundsmen around the country could not consistently produce the kinds of surfaces the team wanted. Du Plessis said he did not expect the Wanderers to be banned from hosting international cricket “because we finished the game,” but South Africa were expecting some repercussions for the venue, as team manager Mohammed Moosajee mentioned on the day played was called off early.
The biggest relief for Wanderers is that the sold-out ODI and T20 against India in February will go ahead, as will the Test against Australia, which takes place over the Easter weekend. Those matches are Wanderers’ best hope of drawing big crowds after the India Test, which started on a Wednesday and ended on a Saturday, and managed to pull in under 35,000 people over the four days. Wanderers has a capacity of 34,000 and rarely sells out for Tests, which are often played outside of the holiday season.