TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth
ST George’s Park is the oldest test ground in the country, but its pitch seems to have discovered the secret to eternal youth.
At least, that’s according to Keshav Maharaj – who should have come to the press conference after the fourth day of the first test between South Africa and Sri Lanka on Thursday as a conquerer-in-waiting.
He is, after all, the only specialist spinner in South Africa’s team.
A team, mind, who are closing in on victory at a ground that, convention says, tends to favour spinners.
Instead, the left-arm spinner made it clear that South Africans shouldn’t expect an early finish when the Lankans resume on Friday on 240/5 in search of their target of 488.
“The pitch has gotten better over the four days,” Maharaj said. “Obviously the ball got softer and that made it a little bit more difficult to bowl with.
“But that’s what we call investing. With that older ball we try to invest, invest, invest, and hopefully with this new ball we can open up an avenue in the morning.
“The pitch is getting better and better by the day but hopefully the harder ball might assist us and spin and bounce a little bit more.”
South Africa took that new ball three overs before stumps on Thursday, and almost made it count when Kyle Abbott trapped Dhananjaya de Silva in front.
But De Silva reviewed the decision, which was overturned because the delivery was shown to be missing leg stump.
Still, the ball will be almost new on Friday morning and it’s to their quicks South Africa will look to win a match in which only six of the 26 wickets that fell on the first four days were taken by spinners.
“It’s not going to be an easy task,” Maharaj said of what lay ahead.
“I want to support the fast bowers. In the first innings they played a massive role, and I just want to stick to my basics and try hit my lengths.
“Hopefully the pitch can assist me from there.”
Or not. More grass than usual was left on the surface in the hopes of negating Sri Lanka’s ace bowler, slow left-armer Rangana Herath.
The plan seems to have worked. Herath, who has banked 17 10-wicket-hauls in his career, finished with match figures of 3/132.
But the extra grass means the pitch has not deteriorated as much as it might have.
“No test match is easy, especially against Sri Lanka,” Maharaj said. “So we’re not counting our chickens before they hatch.
“We’re willing to win in the last session on the final day. If it comes before that, that’s a bonus for us.”
Whether things go down to the wire is one thing. Who takes the wickets is another.
In tests at St George’s Park that have reached a fourth innings, seamers have bowled 5 678 deliveries and taken 93 wickets while spinners have claimed 30 scalps from 2 321 balls.
The quicks, then, take a wicket every 61.05 deliveries and the slow poisoners every 77.37 balls.
Whoever. Whatever. South Africa should still take a 1-0 lead into the second test at Newlands on Monday.