Matthews: Don’t blame curator
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Newlands pitch curator Evan Flint cannot be held culpable for creating any sort of “monster” in his surface for the first Test match between South Africa and Australia here, says former Proteas seam bowling specialist Craig Matthews.
Matthews was reacting to the clatter-of-wickets carnage at the famous venue on day two of the Test on Thursday, which saw the South Africans rolled for 96 in reply to the Aussie first knock of 284, and then even greater drama as the tourists followed up with 47 all out in just 18 jaw-dropping overs.
All kinds of records, mostly of the ignominious kind, were either broken or threatened, and there were murmurs among cricket pundits and bloggers across the world that the pitch would be reported to the International Cricket Council.
But TV commentator Matthews, an expert on local conditions after a first-class career comprising service only for Western Province and South Africa, told Sport24: “I feel sorry for the groundsman because of course questions will be asked.
“Yet people are not being peppered (on the body) and the bounce is not a special problem (from a consistency point of view).
“You have to consider other factors like the pure ‘perfect storm’ scenario - both sides have very good bowlers, after all.
“What you saw also today was the bowlers on both sides really working out what the right length was.
“Perhaps it was simply one of those funny days in cricket. I think the difference between days one and two was that the pitch has just hardened up a bit and got a bit quicker - where you played and missed on the first day, you nicked it the next.”
Matthews, who played 18 Tests and 56 ODIs for South Africa and is also a former national selector, conceded that the avalanche of wickets probably caused a simultaneous “mental spiral” among the batsmen.
“That does happen; people start looking for demons in the wicket as a result and we saw some (loose) strokes.
“Sometimes you play on a pitch that is really green and goes incredibly sideways ... I don’t think this is one of those; it’s one that’s just done enough for you to nick it, just moved off the straight and narrow.”
He agreed that it was a strip tailor-made for Vernon Philander, the Cape Cobras debutant, to excel on - the bustling fast-medium bowler claimed figures of five for 15 in the disastrous Aussie second innings.
“He must think Test cricket is (easy) ... he’ll play on a lot flatter wickets than this. But that said, you’ve still got to get the ball in the right areas and he certainly found a beautiful length.”