The first test of the series saw South Africa make the bizarre decision to order their groundsman to create a slow, turgid pitch, with the intention of blunting Australia’s much vaunted pace attack. Before a bowl was bowled this looked and sounded quite negative and it could have not given Australia a psychological edge to know that South Africa were openly admitting their fears of what they were going to face from the visitors bowling line up.
Tactically it was a poor move with South Africa’s strength being their own quick bowling line up, who had just dismantled the No 1 side India with four quick bowlers and help in the wicket. Ngidi after a fine debut series and full of confidence was left out due to the pitch. Philander a fine bowler, who can exploit helpful conditions excellently – had no help and took his greatest asset away. Meaning Australia – whose batting is so heavily reliant on Steve Smith were able to play with more comfort than they could have imagined on a pitch not testing them as they would have expected.
The other major problem off producing a slow, worn surface is it brought the best spinner in the world at present Nathan Lyon massively into play and his opening spell of a turning wicket swung the game massively into Australia’s favour. Australia also have a fast bowler in Starc who with fast, reverse swinging Yorkers, can take any pitch (slow or otherwise out of the equation).
It leaves South Africa in a dilemma as to where to turn now. There is a historical precedent for the same situation. England in the 2009 Ashes ordered the same bland wickets to negate the then Australian pace and namely Mitchell Johnson. After scraping a draw in the first test in the most unlikely of ways with Monty Panesar and Jimmy Anderson batted the last 40 minutes, England got thumped at Lords on another wicket where Australia racked up the runs with England unable to threaten in any shape or form whilst with runs on the board and more pace in their attack flattened England to go 1-0 up.
It left England’s think tank of Strauss and Flower to flip the original decision on its head. Ask for helpful wickets for the rest of games and bring their own high-class attack of Anderson, Harmison, Flintoff and Broad, not to mention the then best spinner around into play in Graeme Swann. The result being England coming back to win the series 2-1 on the back mainly of the home team concentrating on their own skills and strengths and taking the positive root.
It will be fascinating to see what the South African’s do next in the 2nd test running from Friday 9th – Tuesday 13th.
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