TELFORD VICE in Wellington
FAIRNESS is quintessentially Kiwi. So much so that New Zealanders frown on tailoring their pitches to fit their game.
“I don’t think you do; I think you just try and play better cricket. It’s not any more complex than that.”
That’s Mike Hesson, New Zealand’s coach, sniffing at the very idea of tilting the conditions balance.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson flipped the equation when he explained the decision to pick two spinners for the first test against South Africa at University Oval in Dunedin, which was drawn on Sunday.
“It was purely based on horses for courses, and looking at the surface and how we wanted to use some of our strengths against the South African side on this wicket,” Williamson said.
South Africa have done the opposite in home matches this season. They have asked for – and been given – pitches that have helped them make the most of their perennially potent pace attack.
And it’s worked. Of the 19 matches they have played across all formats in South Africa since August they have won 16 and lost only two.
Then again, New Zealand have also played 19 games in their own conditions since November – and won 14 and lost four.
The Kiwis, it would seem, place greater value on knowing how to succeed on particular pitches than on bending surfaces to their will.
“That’s Dunedin,” Hesson said about the slow, turning grinch first test was a speedbump to the faster, more emphatic style of play South Africans know and prefer.
“Dunedin has never ever been quick and bouncy,” Hesson said. “It’s also the time of year – you don’t get quick pitches generally in New Zealand at this time.”
That suited the Kiwis just fine.
“Ideally we don’t want to play South Africa on a seamer-friendly surface,” Hesson said.
“But going into day five this test match could have gone one of three ways, which is a sign of a very good test pitch.”
It is, in a St George’s Park kind of way.
For Williamson, the debate over conditions was “in some countries probably more relevant than in others”.
New Zealand was among the others.
“The characteristics of the grounds – particularly in this part of the world – don’t tend to change too drastically unless they’re under-prepared,” Williamson said.
“Playing at home you’re naturally a little bit more comfortable, but they’re pretty fair playing fields and it’s a recipe for good games of cricket.”
That said, the New Zealanders do not leave everything to geography and chance.
One half of the block at Seddon Park in Hamilton, where the third test starts on March 25, has been laid with clay from a village 50 kilometres from Auckland called Patumahoe. Those pitches tends to be faster and more bouncy.
The English translation of the place’s Maori name could be rendered as, “To kill with a club made of mahoe wood.”
The other half of the pitch block features clay from the Canterbury hamlet of Waikari – “muddy waters” – that delivers slower, turning surfaces.
Unsurprisingly, the pitch for the third test will be on the Waikari side of the block.