Keep your eye on the ball‚ not the pitch‚ to win Tests

Shan Masood of Pakistan and Asad Shafiq of Pakistan celebrate their 100 partnership during day 3 of the 2nd Castle Lager Test match between South Africa and Pakistan at PPC Newlands on January 05, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Shan Masood of Pakistan and Asad Shafiq of Pakistan celebrate their 100 partnership during day 3 of the 2nd Castle Lager Test match between South Africa and Pakistan at PPC Newlands on January 05, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Image: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images

Had Pakistan spent more mental energy on batting like they did for two hours at Newlands on Saturday instead of on complaining about the pitch‚ this Test series would have unfolded differently.

But it is what it is.

The South Africans will saunter out on Sunday morning secure in the knowledge that the game and with it the series could‚ fines meeting permitting‚ be done well in time for them to lunch in the winelands.

Only 41 runs are required for the home side to clinch the series with a game to spare‚ a just reward for playing the better cricket in all departments almost all of time.

That hardly seemed likely while Shan Masood and Asad Shafiq were busy smacking everybody to all parts in their stand of 132.

Pakistan were 27/2 when the partnership started and its end nudged them over a cliff that saw eight wickets crash while just 135 runs were added.

And even that equation would have been more modest‚ from the visitors’ perspective‚ had Babar Azam not screwed his courage to its sticking place well enough to klap 72‚ all but a dozen of them in boundaries‚ off 87 balls.

Given their lead of 254 South Africa can’t be criticised for attacking relentlessly even as the runs flowed.

But you have to wonder how much better Pakistan would have fared in both innings at Centurion and in the first innings at Newlands had they showed more of Saturday’s approach.

Instead their attitude was summed up by their coach‚ Mickey Arthur‚ who on Friday wailed about the state of both pitches.

The South Africans did something similar in India in 2015 on their way to another resounding defeat.

That’s not to say they and Arthur didn’t have valid concerns.

One of the surfaces on South Africa’s Indian tour was indeed rated poor by the International Cricket Council‚ and this time the home side have been left to make excuses for kryptonite green pitches that have made batting‚ for most‚ an exercise in pain and failure.

The difference is in the details. Not once on India’s tour of South Africa last summer did Virat Kohli or any member of his dressingroom whine about conditions.

And they had reason to‚ particularly about a Wanderers pitch that earned a suspension in play and must have come close to being declared dangerous.

Instead it was the South Africans who were upset — about a Centurion strip that was too slow for their liking.

That they won on it seemed less important.

That India won at the Wanderers proved what a change of mindset can help teams accomplish.

Cricket is a damnably difficult game to play properly‚ even more so when your opponents know what they’re doing.

So it doesn’t help your cause when you take your eye off the ball to look at the pitch. All you’re doing is lending the other side a hand to beat you.

It’s too late to save Pakistan from another series loss in South Africa‚ their fifth in sixth series of which the other was drawn.

But still it bears saying: Mickey‚ don’t be a mouse.

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