Cracks in the track may spell trouble
Rahul Dravid spent several minutes at either end of the 22-yard strip that’s doing its best to imitate a cricket pitch. He stood just where the crease lines have been marked, in batting stance but without a bat in hand, and looked down the pitch.
With his left hand up, he traced the path a ball would likely come from, and shaped to play a few mock shots. It’s a technique they call visualisation, and now much in vogue.
The aim of the exercise is to think of what needs to be achieved and how this was going to be done and thereby train the mind and body to perform as you want it to. But whether Dravid was visualising wide half-volleys that could gracefully be dispatched to the cover fence or vicious induckers that jagged back in from a length is anyone’s guess.
One thing is clear, the best time to bat on this pitch is going to be early on first day, but even that could be a dangerous passage of play.
Just pace would not be a cause for concern, even given Dale Steyn’s remarkable success. The problem comes when there are cracks in a pitch. While the cracks might help India’s spinners pick up wickets South Africa’s quicks could cause physical harm without even intending to.
While it’s far too early to speculate on whether this pitch is one of those diabolical surfaces you can’t help by cast the mind back to 1998 when the England Test at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica became the first in cricket’s 121-year history to be abandoned because of a dangerous pitch. That surface had wet spots but it was the lattice-like cracks that did the damage.
The soil in Kanpur is dramatically different from that of Jamaica but the cracks are eerily similar.
The hope all around is that the usually low bounce of Kanpur kicks in because the ball shooting low might make for some ugly dismissals and frustrating cricket, but it won’t pose any danger.
If the ball is rearing from a length, however, at pace, then batsmen will repeatedly be hit on the body and it becomes a matter of when rather than if someone gets seriously hurt.
Barry Jarman, who was match referee during that infamous call-off in 1998 then said he was “crying blood and tears.”
While it should not come to that, the dangerous cries of having to win at all costs and square this series has resulted in a seriously under-prepared wicket. You can be sure batsmen will spend the hours leading up to the start of the Test hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.