TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
“HOPEFULLY they can spray the pitch green as well,” Russell Domingo joked on Monday as he looked ahead to the first one-day international between SA and New Zealand in Centurion on Wednesday.
Spectators arriving early for the second Twenty20 at the same ground on Sunday were met by the sight of a tractor lugging a large drum – which was used to spray the outfield a delicate shade of pistachio.
The trick is not new. Louis Luyt would disguise rugby fields in the same way, while water hazards on golf courses sometimes glow neon blue with dye. All the better to make the action look for paying fans and on television.
What with the New Zealand series being played in winter, when every expanse of grass on the Highveld looks like a Marie biscuit and is just as dry, the cosmetic gardening was a good idea.
But all it took to explode the myth was a fielder sliding in pursuit of the ball. With that, the greenery – and often even the fielder himself – disappeared from view in a cloud of dead, brown dust that reminded those watching that the southern hemisphere cricket season remained a month or three away.
Perhaps SA will be in hibernation until then. They rallied to win the first T20 on Kingsmead’s eternal sunshine of the spotless outfield on Friday, but by Sunday evening they had hit the snooze button. On Monday they awoke to the cold fact that New Zealand had levelled the series.
So it will take more than a lick of paint to convince South Africans that their team are over the shock of their exit from the World Cup at the hands of the self-same New Zealanders, who got by with a little help from their unlikely friends: Cricket SA’s selectorial string-pulling suits.
Psychologists say the World Cup shambles could have been part of the problem in Bangladesh, where SA crashed to their first ever series loss to the Tigers in the ODIs.
Now SA will face New Zealand in three ODIs, a challenge that has been made tougher because JP Duminy and Morne Morkel are on paternity leave and Faf du Plessis is battling a troublesome knee.
“Not having a guy like Faf does hamper the stability of our batting line-up,” Domingo said. “Finding the right balance between attack and defence is going to be important for us in the one-day format.”
Kyle Abbott, meanwhile, is not the force he was at the World Cup, where he bowled 31 overs and led SA’s attack in terms of his average of 14.4, his economy rate of 4.19 and his strike rate of 20.6.
In the seven ODI and T20s Abbott has played since he was foolishly and undeservedly axed for the semi-final of that tournament, he has bowled 29.2 overs for an average of 38.2, an economy rate of 6.51 and a strike rate of 35.2.
Domingo called Abbott a “hell of a performer”, but suggested he was on thin ice: “Kyle is competing for places with other players. Hopefully that will bring the best out of him and out of them.”
Whether or not you paint by the numbers, there is no way to colour this picture pretty.