TELFORD VICE, Kingsmead
TWENTY minutes after umpires Ian Gould, Richard Illingworth and Shaun George shook their heads to deny Kingsmead another day of cricket on Monday, the fourth day of the first test between SA and New Zealand, the sun put in a guest appearance.
But not for long: two minutes later it slunk back behind the clouds that, on Saturday night, dumped 65 millimetres of rain on Durban and soaked an outfield that was bare of grass in patches.
The grey blanket overhead rolled away on Sunday to reveal a gloriously blue sky. But even though the sun stayed put in the sky it did not dry the ground enough to satisfy the officials, who abandoned prospects for play soon after their 2pm inspection, their third of the day.
Surely the 70 kilometres an hour south-westerly that Durban awoke to on Monday would slurp up the remaining squelch, even if the sun was hiding again …
An inspection before the scheduled start at 10am was followed by others at noon and 2pm – and another abandonment.
“Underfoot conditions are still soft,” the scoreboard informed the deserted stands.
So, no longer too wet. But too soft and therefore potentially dangerous for players who could be injured if they stepped, at pace, on unstable ground.
Or so the press had to surmise: requests for match referee Andy Pycroft to explain the umpires’ position were declined.
The outfield was decompacted at the end of June. That work being done poorly and 420 millimetres of rain falling in the past three weeks – normally that amount Durban receives during August, September and October – created a confluence for catastrophe.
“It is most unfortunate and certainly beyond our control that the heavy unseasonal rains in Durban had impacted our plans,” Cricket SA chief executive Haroon Lorgat told reporters in an email.
So, for two days and two sessions, since bad light halted proceedings five minutes before lunch on Saturday, or eight sessions in total, New Zealand have been 15/2 in reply to SA’s first innings of 263.
What are Kingsmead’s stadium manager, Brett Proctor, and groundsman Wilson Ngobese and his staff doing to remedy the situation? Precious little, and not because they are lazy or incompetent.
The umpires apparently prefer nature to take its course and have dissuaded groundstaff from doing any more than clear standing water.
Neither can Kingsmead be blamed for the fact that no sawdust has been seen on the ground. Sawdust is used only once a time for the resumption of play has been established, which has yet to happen.
Where the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union (KZNCU) have fallen short is by not making provision for additional covers – which could have been borrowed from clubs, for instance – once they knew the forecast for Saturday night.
With only Tuesday’s play left the first test is destined to be remembered for the amount of mud it produced rather than the quality of cricket played.
What chance Centurion, where the last match of the series starts on Saturday and where the outfield has also been worked on this winter, could fall victim to something similar?
None, according to Lorgat, who said the ground had been “re-laid by ‘overseeding’ it with a winter grass and the results have been impressive”.
As his words fluttered into inboxes, a pretty sunset painted Durban an orange shade of pink.