TELFORD VICE, Centurion
NOWHERE in the world are SA as successful as they are at Centurion, where the second test against New Zealand starts on Saturday.
Any idea why, Faf du Plessis?
“Honestly I don’t know,” SA captain Du Plessis said on Friday.
“Some grounds it just happens and you take that into the game, and some grounds it just doesn’t happen.
“I don’t know why Durban hasn’t been a great hunting ground for us and I can’t tell you why Centurion has.
“I think we understand things better here and we know the recipe of getting there better than at any other ground.”
Exponentially better, it seems.
SA have won 16 of the 21 tests they have played at Centurion and lost only two. That’s a success rate of 76.19%, a figure that drops to 41.51% at Newlands and 38.89% at the Wanderers.
At Kingsmead, where the first test against the Kiwis was condemned to stalemate by rain and a soft outfield, SA have won exactly a third of their matches.
Their dominance at Centurion even survived their dismal campaign last season. It was the scene of their only victory, against England, in the six tests they played.
Du Plessis will hope the ground works its magic again to help his team overcome an unconvincing batting performance in Durban, where they were dismissed for 263 despite Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, Du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Quintin de Kock and even Kagiso Rabada all scoring more than 20.
“We just needed one guy to get a 100 and that would have taken us to 300-plus,” Du Plessis said. On that wicket that would have been a really good score.
“When we’ve been really good as a test unit we’ve always got hundreds, so that’s our objective.”
The converse applied to what Du Plessis clearly considered a less than solid New Zealand batting line-up.
“They’re not a team that bats to No. 10 or 11, so if you can make inroads and get through their high quality batsmen in the top order you can put some pressure on them,” he said.
Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander were the only bowlers SA used in the first test, but Du Plessis gave his attack – and the Kiwis’ – a vote of confidence.
“There are high quality bowlers in both teams and it’s going to be a good battle between them,” he said.
Quite which batsmen or bowlers SA as well as New Zealand will send into the fray won’t be revealed before the toss.
“The wicket looks a touch on the soft side, a little bit moist,” Du Plessis said.
“It’s quite a tough decision to make. We’re trying to look at all the angles.
“We’re not too sure what to expect – we think it might be slow.
“We’re looking at all the different combinations, whether it’s playing an allrounder or an extra seamer or without playing a spinner. We’re not sure yet.”
Wayne Parnell, Kyle Abbott and Chris Morris, none of whom played at Kingsmead, will be keen to find out whether they crack the nod.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson was more willing to commit himself on that score before training on Friday.
“It’s hard to imagine many changes but we just want to have a look at the wicket,” he said, adding that the visitors were mulling “an extra spin option”.
That could mean game time for both left-armer Mitchell Santner, who took 2/22 in 11 overs in Durban, and leg spinner Ish Sodhi.
All of which will be settled on Saturday, when New Zealand will try to win their first ever test series against SA – who will be bent on clinching the victory that would bump them from seventh to sixth in the rankings.
Disquiet has been voiced repeatedly in the SA camp this week that so much should ride on the result of one match.
But Williamson would have none of it.
“I don’t know if you have too many lotteries in test cricket; the team that plays the more consistent cricket over five days generally wins the game,” he said.
Damn straight. Now get on with it.