TELFORD VICE, Centurion
THE focus at Centurion on Thursday, three days before the second test between SA and New Zealand, wasn’t on the pitch. For a change it was on the outfield.
But that was not surprising considering play in the first test at Kingsmead was truncated to a total of 99.4 overs, largely by unseasonal rain that rendered the outfield unplayable for what should have been the last three days of the match.
Grass that had not knitted properly after being relaid at the end of June was the villain of the piece.
So a match that should have ended at 5pm on Tuesday never advanced past 11.45am on Saturday.
Centurion’s outfield has also been decompacted this winter.
Should enough rain fall during the match could we have another debacle on our hands? No.
Not a drop of rain has been forecast for Centurion until September 7 – two weeks after the match.
And the outfield has been carpeted with rye grass, which survives Gauteng’s winters.
Consequently it gleamed green and glorious in the sunshine on Thursday.
“It looks pretty good; it’s a big change from down in Durban,” New Zealand’s Trent Boult said.
“I haven’t had a look at the wicket yet, but I’m very excited.”
He may be less excited when he does assess the pitch, a yellow slab of winter that doesn’t seem likely to assist the quicks nearly as much as does during the summer.
The irony of the Durban disaster was that the pitch was the most responsive seen at Kingsmead in several seasons, offering plenty of bounce.
But Boult, who took 3/52 in SA’s first innings of 263, should not expect something similar this time.
Centurion groundsman Rudolph du Preez said this week he would spend twice as long preparing the surface compared to during the season.
Consequently batsmen might not have to deal with as much deterioration later in the match as would normally be the case.
“It might be a little bit slower, it might be holding back,” Du Preez was quoted as saying in a Cricket SA release.
That’s not what Boult wanted to hear.
“I don’t know if low and slow is music to my ears, being a fast bowler,” he said.
But he understood that “the challenge is going to be different here”.
“I haven’t seen a cloud in the sky since I’ve been here, so we’re going to have to look to subtly change our plans,” he said.