TELFORD VICE in Hamilton
A tall redhead walked from the boundary to the middle of Seddon Park with determination and focus at the start of South Africa’s training session here on Wednesday and, inevitably, turned heads.
Who was that?
Not many in attendance could answer the question definitively, but there was a clue in the pair of wicketkeeping gloves clutched under the redhead’s elbow.
Ah. Heinrich Klaasen. Of course.
Few members of South Africa’s squad have flown as far under the radar as standby stumper Klaasen.
Two of those who have – Chris Morris and Duanne Olivier – have been sent home early.
That privilege isn’t often shown reserve wicketkeepers, and Quinton de Kock’s absence from the first part of South Africa’s practice on Wednesday explained why.
De Kock took a blow on his right index finger during the second test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, where South Africa won by eight wickets in three days on Saturday.
While his squadmates warmed up with a game of football on the outfield, De Kock was having his finger scanned.
If the problem is anything more serious than bruising then Klaasen, the Titans ’keeper who has scored a century and four half-centuries among the 635 runs he has made in 14 innings in the franchise first-class competition this season, could make his test debut on Saturday.
And, if that happens, he could have his work cut out considering the colour of the pitch being prepared for the match.
“It’s a cucumber,” was how one resident journalist described it.
Which figured in a country utterly without snakes: in South Africa we would call a pitch like the one being readied for Saturday a green mamba.
Of course, by then much of the bright green grass will have been shorn off.
But the surface still struck a stark contrast with the barren, brown strips on the rest of the table.
“Everyone was saying it’s going to be dustbowl,” Russell Domingo said. “It doesn’t look like a dustbowl at the moment.
“It looks a good wicket; a stock standard wicket.”
Seddon Park is unusual in that half its table has been laid with clay from Waikari, which produces slower pitches that tend to offer turn, and the other half with Patumahoe clay, which helps the seamers.
Saturday’s surface has been selected from the Waikari section.
“It’s New Zealand’s home venue; they can decide to play on whichever wicket they want,” Domingo said.
“It’s not something that stresses us too much.”
In the wake of South Africa taking New Zealand’s last five wickets for 16 runs in Wellington – where left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj took 6/40 on an green, seaming pitch – Domingo would have been forgiven for saying he couldn’t be bothered if the third test was to be played on the moon.
Turning pitch? Bring it: Maharaj and Dane Piedt – with JP Duminy and Dean Elgar in the wings – can get the job done.
Faster, bouncier pitch? Bring it: neither Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada nor Wayne Parnell would complain.
And another thing …
“I think reverse swing is going to come into the game,” Domingo said.
“It looks pretty dry, the square.
“They’ve had five internationals on this square this summer, which is the most ever.
“There are a lot of used pitches, which will assist reverse swing, which we have good exponents of.”
Three of South Africa’s batsmen won’t like the sound of that.
Dean Elgar scored a century in the first test at University Oval in Dunedin, and Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma each have two half-centuries to their credit.
But Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy have a top score of 39 between them, with opener Cook having scraped together 17 runs in four innings.
“‘Cookie’ hits more balls than anyone in the world,” Domingo said.
“Even if no-one’s allowed to be here, he’ll still be here.”
But the lacklustre performance of half the top six had been noted.
“All batting units, particularly at international level, will always have one player that’s struggling for form,” Domingo said.
“We’ve got two or three players feeling that pressure, and that’s a little bit of a concern.
“It’s always easier to just have one, but when you’ve got two or three who are searching for form and runs it does become more challenging.
“But we’re fortunate that some guys are in good form.
Dean Elgar, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis – they’re all in really good touch.
“That’s helping the cause.”