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No demons in the pitch

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Unlike their subcontinental neighbours India, Pakistan have been beaten two out of three times they’ve played there.

FINISHING TOUCHES: Faf du Plessis has a chat with groundsmen at The Bullring. The Central Gauteng Lions Cricket Board will hope that debates about the quality of the Wanderers pitch, and indeed pitches around the country, will cease this week. Picture: Muzi Nombela, BackpagePix

The Wanderers is not exactly the fortress the Proteas would like it to be, nor many visitors would expect it to be, for the home team.

That’s not to say the Proteas struggle at the ‘Bullring’, but it’s not a venue where success has been as easy to achieve as at SuperSport Park or Newlands. And yet the Wanderers historically has all the elements the Proteas so desire; pace and bounce in the pitch, a quick outfield and a partisan crowd.

Despite last season’s terrible mishap against India, which saw the Wanderers docked demerit points by the International Cricket Council for preparing what it described as a “dangerous” pitch for the final Test against the Indians, the Wanderers has generally produced a surface with lots of pace and bounce, which evens out on days three and four to assist stroke-play and then breaks up on day five – when matches have reached that stage.

But it’s been touring teams who’ve adjusted to conditions better than the hosts. In the last eight Tests in Johannesburg, South Africa has won four, lost three and memorably played out a draw against India in 2013.

The overall record is not something to make Pakistan quiver either; South Africa has a 42 percent win record in Tests at the ‘Bullring,’ in the post-isolation era much lower than SuperSport Park (83 percent) or Newlands (70 percent) in the same period.

However, unlike their subcontinental neighbours India – who haven’t lost at the Wanderers in five Tests – Pakistan have been beaten two out of three times they’ve played there.

In 1995 they lost by 324 runs with Fanie de Villiers picking up a ‘ten-for’; and five years ago Dale Steyn’s inspired burst on the second morning saw them rattled out for 49, with the Proteas spearhead famously taking 6/8 in 8.1 overs in the first innings and following that up with 5/52 in the second. South Africa went onto win that Test by 211 runs.

Unlike the pitches at Newlands and SuperSport Park, which caused plenty of controversy, the Wanderers, is expected to be as per normal for Friday’s start – it will have pace and bounce.

Bigger concern

“I’m very happy with how the pitch’s preparation has gone,” Central Gauteng Lions (formerly the Gauteng Cricket Board) chief executive Greg Fredericks said yesterday.

How many will come to watch, is a bigger concern for Fredericks and the CGL. Test cricket has not been a big attraction for Gauteng audiences in recent seasons and Fredericks described sales for the third Test as being “disappointing.”

Even with the Australia Test last season, held over the Easter weekend, crowds were relatively sparse, and it is only on weekends where the kind of raucous atmosphere that gave the venue its moniker is generated.

By comparison sales for the ‘Pink ODI,’ that takes place there later this month, have been rapid, and are close to being sold out.

Tickets for the Test match are available through ticketpros.co.za and start from R60.