Australia in SA

'It won’t be a 96 and 47 pitch'

2011-11-15 12:43
Neil McKenzie (Gallo)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Neil McKenzie, who knows the Wanderers better than most people, expects a rather less helter-skelter Test match between South Africa and Australia at the venue from Thursday.

The Highveld Lions and former Proteas batsman, still going strong in domestic cricket on the brink of his 36th birthday, expects a “decent contest between bat and ball” in the second and last Test, after the dramatic, wicket-tumbling events at Newlands in the first.

“It should be that way if the recent hot sunshine on the Highveld continues,” McKenzie told Sport24 on Tuesday. “If the weather stays good then you should see a more ‘settled’ game than Cape Town’s ... anything’s more settled than 96 and 47 all out, of course.

“If there’s enough dryness there could be some turn for the spinners from day three when the strip gets a little abrasive, but under normal circumstances the idea will probably be to try to win the toss, bat first and make a big total.

“The Wanderers still has enough in it these days for the nicks to always carry, even if for pure pace it’s not like it was some 15 years ago.”

Asked about South Africa’s successful decision, in the last Test at the venue when they crushed England by an innings to share the series two seasons ago, to go in with an all-seam attack – Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Ryan McLaren plus some aid from Jacques Kallis – McKenzie said circumstances were different.

“When you are 1-0 down and going for broke then, maybe, you put your faith in an all-pace approach at Wanderers, especially if you fancy it is going to be a green and sporty surface throughout – I’d be surprised if that is the case (this week).”

McKenzie, who scored 170 at the Wanderers for the Lions against the Warriors in a SuperSport Series match only last month and has played first-class cricket at the ground since the mid-1990s, also doesn’t believe the Proteas will fall into a potentially risky ‘draw mindset’, knowing that that outcome would be enough to close out the series.

“I don’t think they’ll do that. Most of our Test team have been together as a unit for many years, not months, and are smart enough to know it’s all about just staying patient and absorbing pressure when it does come at you.”

The Wanderers hardly has a modern culture of favouring draws anyway: you have to go some 16 Tests back, to 1996/97, for the last instance of a game not significantly influenced by weather disruption ending that way (SA v India, third and final Test, when the hosts won the series 2-0).

The last stalemate was 11 Tests back, when the South Africa v New Zealand contest in 2000/01 saw no play at all on days one, three and four.

McKenzie played the last of his 58 Tests against the Aussies at Kingsmead in March 2009, but continues to enjoy franchise and county cricket and reckons that “while the body is holding up fine I have another two years at least in me”.

His most recent county obligations have been with Hampshire, and he says there are “a few things to iron out” but his plan for the next English summer is to have a slightly curtailed, three-month period there as he has family obligations to consider these days.

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