When Home Ground Advantage Isn’t An Advantage

07/03/2014

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When you play in the subcontinent you’re going to get a pitch that looks like a day 10 pitch on day 4. It will be a dust bowl, devoid of grass, and turning sideways, with inconsistent bounce. When you play in England you’re going to get a pitch that’s conducive to swing, a pitch that moves the game forward quickly with play lost to to rain expected. When you play in Australia you’ll get a fast bouncy wicket. You don’t know what you’re going to get in the West Indies these days, anything from a fast and bouncing track, to a flat road. Home ground advantage is expected and pitches are prepared for the home team. It’s why the Subcontinental teams are tough to beat at home, but travel badly, it’s why England do well at home, and not really anywhere else, and it’s why Michael Clarkes Australian’s hadn’t won away in years. So why don’t South Africa prepare pitches to favour their team?

It used to be because of “fairness.” We’ll play on what’s in front of us, and it will be an equal contest between both sides. Just like cricket should be. Then it was, “yes everyone else is doing it, but we won’t stoop to that.” The time has come to stoop. It’s the way the game has gone, and not just the modern game, but the way it’s been for a while now. This Proteas team has prided itself on being the best, the most consistent team, and rightly the number one ranked team. A loss to Australia didn’t really dent their rankings such was the lead they had racked up. Their away record has been particularly impressive, having not lost an away series since touring Sri Lanka in 2006. The ability of the batsman to play in all conditions, to adjust their technique to the pitch, and quickly, coupled with the attacks ability to get assistance from even dead tracks has been reflected in their climb to the top, and their hold on it for 20 months now. If they actually started getting help from groundsmen at home they’d be up within reach of the West Indies team of the 70’s and 80’s and the Australian team of the 2000’s.

The Windies were unbeaten for 15 years and 29 series. The Australian’s unbeaten in 16 series. This Proteas team falls into 3rd spot with 14 series unbeaten, before Australia come to South Africa and beat them 2-1. Australia bookend their run having also won 2-1 in South Africa in 2009. It could have been different had South Africa got pitches to suit their team. Instead of pitches that assisted Vernon Philanders subtle movement, Morne Morkels bounce and Dale Steyns swing, they got a Mitchel Johnson track in Pretoria, a pitch that helped no one at St Georges Park, and a Newlands deck almost allowed them to escape with a draw with its flatness on day 5.

In the old days you’d come to South Africa and have a seamers paradise on the green top in Durban, a pitch that offered some turn for the spinners in Cape Town, and a good batting pitch with some bounce and carry in the Highveld. Something for everyone. It’s time South Africa started preparing pitches to suit their attack in every match. Groundsmen should be consulted early enough in the season and told what type of pitch to prepare for the match, given the season, climate and opponent in mind. It’s not because everyone else is doing it but because it should be done and there’s nothing wrong with it. You should have an advantage when playing at home. You shouldn’t lose to an Australian team when preparing pitches to suit Mitchel Johnson who’s just destroyed England at home. You shouldn’t be looking at the stats after a series and seeing that Vernon Philander, the number two ranked bowler in Test cricket, has gone for over 50 and has had the worst bowling record in a series of his career.

South Africa may be way in front at the top of the Test rankings, but there are some things they can still learn from the other teams. Let’s hope the next time they play at home they’ll enjoy South African conditions.