The two umpires officiating the third and final Test between India and South Africa have decided that Day 4 will start on schedule Saturday, after play was called off 19 minutes early on the third day at the Wanderers when opener Dean Elgar was hit on the visor of his helmet by a rising delivery from pacer Jasprit Bumrah.
At tea, umpires Ian Gould and Aleem Dar, along with match referee Andy Pycroft, had called representatives of the two teams to explain that they would stop play if they deemed the pitch to be dangerous for batsmen. The trigger for this meeting had been the first two sessions that saw several Indian batsmen getting hit by balls that rose alarmingly on a day of intense drama on and off the field. However, what seemed to be shaping into another cricket crisis between the two teams, who have a history of mutual mistrust when it comes to pitches, was averted late at night in Johannesburg.
It all started when South Africa, chasing 241 in the fourth innings of this engrossing Test, were 17 for one. At that stage, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Bumrah were making the South African batsmen jump, fend and struggle, with an excited slip cordon consisting of India’s top-order batsmen applauding them. Captain Virat Kohli and his men, after suffering body blows all day, were giving it back to the hosts.
But that’s when that ball from Bumrah hit Elgar. When the umpires stopped play, Kohli threw up his arms, had a long chat with Dar and reluctantly left the field. The Indian team manager Sunil Subramanium later revealed that the side wanted to play since they thought they had one foot inside the door, with a rare away win on the horizon.
On the dressing room balcony, coach Ravi Shastri, too, looked agitated. Kohli and his South African counterpart Faf du Plessis then moved to the match referee’s room. While the high-level meeting was still on, representatives of both teams presented their case to the media.
There were several versions about the length of that ball from Bumrah. The South Africans said it had taken off from good length and that made the pitch dangerous to play on. The Indians didn’t agree, calling it a regular short ball, like so many others in the game.
The day’s top-scorer Ajinkya Rahane called the pitch challenging, not dangerous. “You cannot call it a dangerous wicket just because Elgar got hit. Most of the batsmen got hit, even (Hashim) Amla got hit in first innings… Vijay, (Cheteshwar) Pujara batted well in the first innings, Virat batted well, they got hit. We never complained about it being a dangerous wicket. We just said it is a challenging wicket. They prepared this wicket, we never told them to prepare a track like this,” he said.
Indian manager Subramanium said: “There has been exaggerated bounce on this wicket but the ball to Elgar was not the one that cut (back) alarmingly. This is what has been happening the last three days. So there was nothing new.” In contrast, South African manager Mohammad Moosajee said Elgar was done in by the spicy wicket. When the home team manager was asked about the most-talked ball of the day, he said, “The ball that hit Dean Elgar shot off a good length.”
To add to spice to the debate was commentator Sunil Gavaskar. “The pitch is challenging. In case the Indians were batting and they had walked away, they would have been seen as sissies,” he said. For now, the crisis has been averted, but the Wanderer Test is certainly on the boil.