South African pacer Morne Morkel on Monday criticised the unusually slow nature of the Centurion surface and went to the extent of 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 overall by 118.
"I’ve played cricket here all my life, and I’ve never seen a wicket like this at the SuperSportPark. 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’s under covers overnight, but in the first hour the balls 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 sorts 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. It’s unheard of that a spinner bowls that amount of overs on the first day. We even took the option to open in the over before lunch with a spinner (yesterday).
"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."
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 – Pandya or Virat or 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.
"Off the top of my head, I think maybe 250 on Day 5 will be a safe target. With the wicket now turning a little bit and keeping a little bit low, I think 250 can be a very good score,” he added.
Virat Kohli scored a handsome 153 runs to anchor the Indian innings. Later, Jasprit Bumrah reduced the hosts to 3/2 before they recovered thanks to AB de Villiers’ half-century.
"Virat is very competitive. They are over here to compete and they’ve got a team that could potentially beat South Africa for the first time here. That’s his nature.
"It gets him going and keeps him going. We’re well aware of that but we don’t take any notice of it. And if you get a batsman of his quality, you’ve got time to adjust.
"Bowling certain lengths, certain lines, we’ve got that small window to make a play. To keep him quiet on this sort of surface, we have to bowl as many dot balls as possible," Morkel said.
On Jasprit Bumrah, 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 it’s 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," he signed off.