In the game of cricket, the pitch is probably the most important thing. If you can successfully predict what course the 22-yard strip will take in the next five days, you will always be ahead in the game. What adds to its mystique is that every country will offer you something different.
India-Bangladesh-Sri Lanka will test your batting judgment on spinning tracks, Australian tracks will test the ability to play bounce & English pitches will test you when the ball is moving laterally. South Africa, however, combines the menace of both England & Australia.
The fast tracks & weather conditions conducive to swing bowling make South Africa one of the most difficult batting destination. To make it worse, South Africa has always possessed a skilled and potent bowling attack.
The fact that no batsman has been able to score a triple century in South Africa highlights the difficult batting condition. So the question arises which type of batsmen do well in South Africa, it will obviously take the technically best batsman to accumulate runs in South Africa, right?
Well, statistics convey anything but that. The racial bar imposed till 1992 means we could not see the likes of Gavaskar & Boycott play there.
Though the stats of Rahul Dravid, Inzamam ul Haq, Alistair Cook & Michael Vaughan are available and they are not encouraging.
These are the batting averages of few batsman who were otherwise very successful in Test cricket with their gritty play. Marvan Atapattu – 21.92, Mahela Jayawardene – 27.87, Rahul Dravid – 29.71, Michael Vaughan – 30, Alistair Cook – 31.40, Younis Khan – 32.60.
Now, let’s take a look at the batsmen who have the best averages in South Africa, I have set qualification as minimum 300 runs scored. The top five names are – David Warner 90.50, Jonny Bairstow 71.80, T Samaraweera 67.80, Azhar Mahmood – 65.40 & Adam Gilchrist – 65.37.
Out of the top five scorers in South Africa, four are quick scorers. This seems no coincidence. If we go through the batsmen who have scored more than 500 runs in South Africa, you will find it mostly populated with stroke-players and a rare spot to a solid batsman.
Chris Gayle averages 54 with a strike rate of 84 in South Africa. The only man who averages above 50 in South Africa with a strike rate below 45 is one of the toughest batsmen to play the game, Steve Waugh.
The reason probably for such an anomaly is that the conditions are very much in favor of bowlers and the South African bowlers are usually gold standard. It is difficult to not score fast and survive long.
To see Hardik Pandya emerge as the highest scorer in the first Test may not be so surprising after all.