TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
WHEELBARROWS filled with tins of green spraypaint could be more useful than the heavy roller for staff at some of SA’s cricket grounds what with New Zealand set to tour in August.
“It’s not going to be a lush, green outfield,” former Centurion groundsman Hilbert Smit said on Wednesday. “It’s going to be hard and yellow.”
Smit knows of whence he speaks, having prepared his ground for a one-day international played on August 17, 2005.
“We sprayed the outfield green but that only changed the colour of the grass, not the conditions. The ball still got old much more quickly than it does during the summer.”
That match was part of the Afro-Asian Cup, an odd competition that consisted of three ODIs and was contested by teams representing Africa and Asia. The other two games were played at Kingsmead on August 20 and 21.
August? That’s for the start of the SA and English football seasons, the US Open tennis tournament and the PGA Championship. It’s also for cricket, but in the other hemisphere: the last two Ashes tests will be played in England in August this year.
Cricket and August do not often share a sentence in SA. However, the Kiwis will play three ODIs and two T20s between August 14 and 26 at Kingsmead, Centurion and Potchefstroom.
“It’s a huge problem if you’re playing tests at that time of year because the pitches don’t change as the match goes on,” Smit said. “But for ODIs it’s not an issue – the quality of the surface will be good.
“But the weather could be freezing and that might affect the players, and the groundstaff could find themselves having to get frost off the covers in the mornings.”
That won’t be the case in subtropical Durban, where the locals enjoy something close to endless summer.
“We’ve started our preparations very early because of the tour,” Kingsmead groundsman Wilson Ngobese said on Wednesday. “We’ve done our scarification already, and it’s nice and green and the grass is growing back.
“There’s not a lot of rain at that time of year so we should be fine in terms of preparing the pitches. It’s hard to say how much bounce there will be but it won’t be flat.”
Reporting the 2005 Afro-Asian Cup for Wisden, veteran West Indian journalist Tony Cozier described the August 20 match in Durban, in which the Africa XI fall 17 runs short of their target of 268, as having been played on a “balmy winter’s day”. That wasn’t the case 24 hours later, when the teams returned to Kingsmead.
“Brooding skies and air like consommé made for a fast-bowling feast: not only did the ball swing, but it seamed and bounced, in complete contrast to the predictability of the previous day.”
The match was washed out three overs into the Asia XI’s reply to the Africans’ total of 106.
So, the New Zealanders should feel right at home on the Highveld, where the weather could chime with the myth that is summer in Dunedin. In Durban, where the outfield won’t need to be greenwashed, the heat could be on both sides’ batsmen.
And if it rains we’ll know nothing has changed at Kingsmead in 10 years.