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South Africa’s motivation for having home pitches that give their fast bowlers an advantage is understandable, but does it need to be so heavily weighted towards them?

The Wanderers is not exactly the fortress the Proteas would like it to be. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

There is too much talk about pitches in South Africa. Despite what Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson said after the Centurion and Cape Town Tests against Pakistan, the pitches for those two matches were not good.

There wasn’t a good balance between bat and ball at SuperSport Park, and the same could be said for Newlands, although batting was a smidgen easier in the second Test.

But no way should a ball shoot through at shin height on day one as happened to poor Aiden Markram in Cape Town nor should players be copping body blows on day three from balls trampolining off a fuller length – which happened in both games. Batting really should get easier on days two and three, it’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with it.

South Africa’s motivation for having home pitches that give their fast bowlers an advantage is understandable, but does it need to be so heavily weighted towards them?

The Proteas were badly scarred by the series defeat against India in 2015. On that (extended) tour India, having lost the One-Day series and fearing embarrassment in the Tests instructed their groundsmen to ‘rake’ pitches for the four Tests. The third match in Nagpur was played on a surface that was subsequently sanctioned by the ICC. South Africa lost that series 3-0 and it would have been four were it not for rain in Bangalore.

What South Africa did was to follow India’s example, and England’s, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and ask for pitches that favoured their quick bowlers (England want seaming tracks, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka want ones that aid spin) and made life difficult for opposing batsmen.

There’s nothing wrong with that (home ground advantage should be an ‘advantage’) but in South Africa’s case in the last couple of seasons its switched too far one way and it has caused problems for groundsmen who are working in some challenging conditions – a changing natural environment (global warming affects pitch preparation too) and financial limitations that means that squares that should have been dug up or refreshed haven’t been because unions can’t afford to do so.

It should also be noted, livelier, bouncier and quicker pitches are not what the Proteas want when they face Australia. Remember last summer’s series played on slower surfaces in Durban and Port Elizabeth, a fairly ‘normal’ Newlands pitch and a Wanderers one which had no demons owing mainly to that ground needing to stay well within the limits lest it be sanctioned again by the ICC and lose its international status? And guess what, South Africa won three out of those four Tests.

Why? Well the current crop of quick bowlers are arguably – as a collective – some of the finest South Africa has ever produced. Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada have claimed over 800 Test wickets between them, they’re really THAT good and don’t need that much help from pitches.

So we have Du Plessis saying that SA batsmen don’t mind sacrificing their egos and Gibson saying Test cricket is supposed to be hard.

Meanwhile, a Theunis de Bruyn, who is trying to make his way in the game, can’t really build confidence because he doesn’t know when the next ball ‘with his name on it’ is coming his way.

South Africa don’t need pitches so heavily weighted in favour of their quicks as has been the case in the first two matches against Pakistan. They are a good Test side on home soil, they’ve shown that against Australia and showed it against India on a slower track in the second Test at SuperSport Park last season. Dial down on the talk for livelier tracks – especially against sides from the subcontinent – let the groundsmen be and just play the game.