TELFORD VICE, Dunedin
ONLY twice in the seven tests played at University Oval in Dunedin, where New Zealand and South Africa start their series on Wednesday, have a team been dismissed in the fourth innings.
Of those 35 scheduled days of play, four were lost to rain in their entirety, including the last day of South Africa’s only test here in March 2012.
In that game, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Jacques Kallis and Imran Tahir would have fancied their chances of bowling out a New Zealand team who had already lost Rob Nicol, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor and needed 264 more runs to win.
It was one of four draws at a venue that has also delivered a three-day cracker.
That was the inaugural test at the ground, in January 2008, when seamers Chris Martin, Kyle Mills and Jacob Oram took nine of Bangladesh’s wickets in the first innings and left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori claimed four in the second dig.
Hugged by grass embankments topped by tall trees and untouched by the looming stands that sully stadiums, University Oval hasn’t often produced cricket as pretty as its setting.
Fifteen centuries have been scored here, two of them double hundreds, but only two five-wicket hauls have been taken.
Those patterns are unlikely to change in Wednesday’s match, particularly as rain has been forecast for the last day on Sunday, and despite the fact that Mike Davies is preparing his first test pitch.
But New Zealand captain Kane Williamson wasn’t taking any chances.
“There’s a new groundsman here at ‘Uni’ Oval so I wanted to get his thoughts on some of the subtle differences we might have experienced previously on this surface,” Williamson said on Tuesday.
“By all accounts it’s probably a similar-looking surface to what we’re used to – a bit of green grass and it might offer a bit to the seamers initially.”
Still, Williamson didn’t have enough trust in what had gone before – and what he expected to happen again – to name his XI before the toss.
“We do want to have another look (on Wednesday),” he said. “We have seen the wicket in the past change quite quickly so it’s important that we do that.”
All seven University Oval tests have been the first match of the series, a clever ploy by the Kiwis, who know that Dunedin’s cold weather – temperatures are set to hover around 10 degrees Celsius when the first ball is bowled on Wednesday – is likely to inhibit the performance of opponents from warmer climes.
Which, along with pitches that don’t deteriorate enough to aid spinners, helps explain why all the sides who have lost here are from the hot, humid Asian sub-continent: Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
And another thing – New Zealand have never lost here.
Now there’s prize on which South Africa will want to to keep their eyes.