TELFORD VICE, Durban
THE last ball of the first test between SA and New Zealand at Kingsmead was bowled long enough before the match was abandoned on Tuesday for Mike Hesson to forget who his team were playing against.
“We gathered a lot of information about the Sri Lankan batsmen in conditions that were quite challenging at times,” New Zealand coach Hesson told reporters, and stopped as his assertion was met by incredulity.
“Sri Lankan did I say …? Nah … we gathered loads from the TV over the last few days.”
No doubt from watching coverage of Sri Lanka playing Australia in the first one-day international in Colombo on Sunday.
What else were the Kiwis and the Saffers to do while they waited for Kingsmead’s outfield to dry after it was waterlogged by the 65 millimetres of rain that fell on Saturday night?
By the time the match was put out if its misery, 45 minutes before the planned start of 10am on Tuesday, more than three days – or 11 sessions – of play had been lost.
Of the 450 scheduled overs only 99.4 were bowled. What became the last ball, delivered by Vernon Philander and defended by Ross Taylor, was sent down five minutes before lunch on Saturday.
In a dozen of those overs Philander and Dale Steyn had reduced the visitors to 15/2 in reply to SA’s first innings of 263.
But what promised to be a compelling contest was snuffed out first by bad light and then by the effects of Saturday’s rain.
“I can tell you honestly from the Proteas camp we were dying to get out there,” SA captain Faf du Plessis said.
“We had New Zealand in a spot of bother and on that wicket there was still a lot of assistance.”
Even so, Du Plessis understood why the match had been marooned: “It’s up to the umpires to make an assessment of whether the ground is safe or not safe.
“As cricketers we generally don’t look at all the factors, we just want to get out there. From our perspective we wanted to play.
“The general feeling was that the ground was unsafe. There were quite a few areas that were a bit muddy and a bit loose underfoot.
“(The umpires) are very worried that if you were to sprint or make sudden movements on it you could get badly injured, so they have have to deal with these things and we respect the decision.
“As a player you don’t think about that. When a ball is going in a particular direction I’m going to run and dive and try and stop it.
“I don’t think of what’s happening on the outfield. It’s (the umpires’) job to think of those things.”
Hesson was on the same page: “Both teams were very keen to play but we also respect that umpires are responsible for ground, weather and light.
“Even from the time we arrived at this test match we knew that the outfield was in a poor state and obviously it just didn’t cope with the rain.”
Kingsmead’s outfield was bare of grass in several places, a result of a decompacting process that was completed on July 1.
The work, which was done at Cricket SA’s (CSA) insistence on the basis of player feedback, was improperly carried out – the digging was too deep – and finished too late for the outfield to recover properly before the match.
Thus there was little to prevent parts of the ground being turned into a quagmire when serious rain came on Saturday night.
Which has raised the alarm about Saturday’s second test at Centurion, where the outfield has also been decompacted.
“The players are used to sliding in to stop the ball, which on dormant turf you cannot do,” groundsman Rudolph du Preez was quoted as saying in a CSA release on Tuesday.
“That was the major consideration when switching to winter turf instead of staying on dormant summer turf.”
The grass won’t be greener on the other side of the country. But it seems more of it has been planted there than in Durban.