TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
FOR 50 weeks of the year Evan Flint is as chilled as a bottle of sparkling wine that spent all of December 31 on ice waiting for midnight.
But not during the other two weeks, and these are those two weeks.
Newlands groundsman Flint spends most of that time preparing for the New Year test, the grand centrepiece of South Africa’s summer.
Then, for five days, he finds out how good a job he has done.
It is a time of trepidation for him, and mostly for no good reason.
Flint is among the best in the business and has earned a reputation for producing excellent pitches consistently.
But things don’t always go according to plan.
Twenty-three wickets fell in 64 overs on the second day of South Africa’s match against Australia at Newlands in 2011, a game that lurched from the first innings to the fourth in a few frenetic hours.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Flint said at the time.
“If I could have found a ticket out of town I would have taken it.
“I tried so hard and I did my best and this is what I got.”
Flint didn’t say anything that strong at Newlands on Sunday, on the eve of the second test against Sri Lanka.
He didn’t have to: the worry was writ large in his eyes.
It was put there by the South Africans wanting more grass than usual to be left on the pitch.
That should stop the surface from deteriorating significantly – which could negate the threat posed by the Lankans’ ace in the hole, slow left-armer Rangana Herath.
The plan worked in the first test at St George’s Park, where Herath’s contribution to the visitors’ cause was limited to three wickets.
“I guess home advantage is something you see around the world,” Graham Ford, these days Sri Lanka’s coach, said.
“Certainly the pitch in PE suited South Africa; it’s exactly what they wanted and not what we wanted.
“This looks pretty similar.”
Flint has indeed done what has been asked of him but, clearly, he wasn’t at ease.
Not that Russell Domingo shared Flint’s concerns.
“There’s a lot of good weather forecast for the next five days, so I suppose it might do something for the first session or two and settle down and be a good wicket,” Domingo said.
“South Africa and Australia are maybe the two places that provide for a fair contest with both bat and ball.
“It showed in Port Elizabeth, where (the pitch) did a bit on day one.
“But then it was really good to bat on and the ball spun a little bit on day three.
“Our wickets produce good, fair contests.”
So Domingo wasn’t fearful of his team being bowled out for, say, 47?
“Who was that against? Australia.
“It was so long ago that I don’t even remember it.
“Those things don’t happen too often, so I can’t see that happening for a while.”
Australia were dismissed for 47 in 2011 on a pitch that offered just enough movement off the seam to confound players of the class of Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke.
That match was played in November, when the Cape’s water table is higher and there tends to be more moisture in pitches here.
The water table would be lower now, and still lower because of the current drought.
But Domingo, you get the feeling, wouldn’t be unhappy if Newlands again delivered an avalanche of wickets.
“We want to play it positive and aggressive, and when the opportunities are there to rather err on the expansive side than the conservative side,” Domingo said.
“That’s the type of cricket we’re trying to play.
“At crunch time in the game, with the bat or the ball, I want the players to err on the positive side, to have a ‘let’s have a look and see what happens’ type of attitude.”
What if you look up at the scoreboard and see you’ve been bowled out for 47?
Pop the cork on another chilled bottle of sparkling wine and drink a toast to a hell of a game.
You, too, Mr Flint.