Mark Richardson: A constant search for a result is taking the pitch

By Mark Richardson

Christo Erasmus, the retiring groundsman at Newlands in Cape Town, made an excellent statement when he said, "I don't prepare wickets for mediocre cricket."

He made it in response to criticism levelled at a pitch that produced a draw. A pitch that supposedly offered the bowlers nothing, so was unfair, yet we saw early seam movement, reverse swing, spin and good carry - for those with the skill to provide such things.

The pitch at Newlands was a victim of modern society - an ever-increasing desire for instant gratification; in a cricketing sense, an increasing desire for fast-paced play; and in a test-cricket sense, an increasing need for a result.

Limited-overs cricket was brought in to relieve this ever-increasing urge and now Twenty20 has evolved to scratch an itch developed by organised and skilful accumulation through the middle stages of a 50- over game.

But test cricket should remain test cricket.

One of the great nuances of test cricket is that a win is something of such reasonable rarity that it is undeniably an occasion for celebration. It should take days of hard toil, or be due to a performance of exceptional quality and be accompanied by a feeling of real accomplishment.

There is nothing wrong with a draw if both teams have played so well or so poorly as to arrive at stalemate.

In short, mediocre cricket should not produce results.

There will always be teams like the West Indies of the 1980s or today's Australia who win on a regular basis or redefine the boundaries of quality play. But that does not mean just because they win the playing field should be levelled.

Well-grassed wickets like the one at Wanderers do nothing for test cricket other than provide result cricket by default. They often place that result in the hands of lady luck.

Lady luck turned against Stephen Fleming when he called heads and it was a tail and then again when his inner thigh sounded like a cricket bat.

New Zealand needed a result pitch full of assistance for their medium pacers to stand the best chance of beating South Africa and levelling the series, just as they did in March 2001 against Pakistan and March 2002 against England. They also used green seamers in December 2002 to defeat India. Again, on those occasions, the coin fell the right way.

The toss of a coin should not be powerful enough to force a result, yet it often does. Unfortunately mediocre umpiring often does, too.

With that said, however, there was nothing mediocre about the bowling of Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn on the first morning of this third test match.

But the wicket offered them far too much and the morning of mayhem they produced may have decided this test match far sooner than it should have.

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