South African pacer Morne Morkel, on Monday, criticised the unusually slow nature of the Centurion surface, comparing it with an Indian pitch. The pacer took 4/60 as India were bowled out for 307 runs in their first innings, conceding a 28-run lead. The hosts finished at 90/2, leading by 118.
“I’ve played cricket here all my life, and I’ve never seen a wicket like this at the SuperSport Park. It was really hard work. In the heat, with conditions really tough, it was right up there with one of the hardest spells I’ve bowled,” said Morkel, after day three of the second Test.
“I think the pace of the wicket was the toughest aspect. You’ve got a small little window with the new ball. The reason might be because it was under covers overnight, but in the first hour the ball seems a little bit quicker off the deck.
“But after that, there’s actually been no pace in the wicket. It’s important to come out with different sort of game plans. You need to try a lot of things but we had runs on the board in the first innings to try different things. From a bowling point of view, it is definitely not the ideal sort of surface,” he added.
When asked if he would compare it with an Indian wicket, the pacer replied, “One hundred percent, yes. Its unheard of a spinner bowling that amount of overs on the first day. We even took the option to open in the over before lunch with a spinner [on Sunday].
“There’s a very sub-continental feel to it. It is tough to score, and tough to get people out. Luckily we’ve got some experience of that in the bank. But they are not the conditions that we want here in South Africa.”
‘The game will be open’
Talking about the day’s play, cut short by rain and bad light, Morkel said that a result was very much possible despite the nature of the pitch. “Obviously, it was important for us to get the breakthrough this morning. We knew, talking last night, if we took two wickets we would be bowling to their tail-enders. So to get those first two – [Hardik] Pandya or Virat [Kohli] or [Ravichandran] Ashwin was crucial.
“Luckily by a run out, things changed a little bit. Otherwise I think it would have been an interesting sort of day. And then with the bat this afternoon, I thought Dean [Elgar] and AB played superbly after losing those two early wickets.
“It was tough, with Ashwin bowling from one end and they had the luxury of rotating their seamers from the top. But the way they stuck out, to have the lead by over 100 tonight is satisfying,” said Morkel.
Morkel said the game will have an outcome despite the loss of time today due to rain and bad light. “I think definitely a result is very much possible. If they get some early wickets tomorrow, or if we can bat through the first session while not losing many wickets, the game will still be very open.”
Jasprit Bumrah reduced the hosts to 3/2 before they recovered, thanks to AB de Villiers half-century. Morkel added: “Bumrah has got the perfect action for this sort of wicket. He is very skiddy. Talking to our batters and doing some preparation before the Test match, we’ve got our game plans.
“Talking about collapses [in the second innings] is a bit of a red flag but its something that we do talk about – losing a cluster of wickets is not ideal. “Individuals must take responsibility, but there’s a massive thing in the team to build partnerships. Hopefully tomorrow we can get that lead that we want.”