New Zealand in SA
Fresh Newlands strip for Test
Cape Town - Evan Flint, the astute young Newlands
pitch curator, has started relaying the pitches at South Africa’s most popular
Test venue ... but one of the existing ones will be employed for the first
encounter with New Zealand from January 2-6.
Flint told Sport24 on Thursday that the
surface would nevertheless be a “fresh” one despite the volume of cricket
already played this season.
Reasonably typical characteristics can be
expected, with bounce of the tennis-ball variety to keep the seamers interested - although the carry may be nothing too special - and prosperity also likely
for batsmen who knuckle down diligently.
The Kingsmead-schooled Flint has had some
four years at Newlands now, enough experience not to be too unruffled by the
fickleness of the Cape Town weather: a few days of above-average, often scorching
heat were followed on Thursday by a sudden switch in the wind to the north and
a few drops of rain at the ground.
But “sunny and mild” is the anticipated,
near-ideal medicine in the remainder of the lead-up to the Test and the lanky
groundsman is pretty confident that the proverbial “good cricket wicket” is in
It seems he is under no special pressure to
prepare a surface lopsidedly catering for the needs of the Proteas’ eternally
highly-touted pace attack; both Cricket South Africa and the Cape Cobras’
bosses will be quietly hoping for a Test that goes an acceptable distance
despite the home team’s No 1 Test status and the Black Caps’ current insecurity
and some fears they may be routed.
Certainly there is a good case for arguing
that Graeme Smith’s team ought to be capable of beating the New Zealanders at
home, regardless of whether the pitches they play on are rank featherbeds, inadvertent
green-tops or fall somewhere in between.
More often than not, modern Newlands Test
tracks earn healthy post-game accolades for their all-round fairness.
The last Test there, which also featured
relative minnows in Sri Lanka (fallible out of their own environment) and in
the same “New Year” slot, saw South Africa all but win by an innings to secure
the series 2-1 – they prevailed by 10 wickets after chasing a nominal target of
two in the fourth knock.
Unfathomably sent in by Tillakaratne
Dilshan after the visitors had won the toss, the Proteas had gleefully amassed
580 for four declared, with a double century for Jacques Kallis (who so seldom
fails to cash in at his most beloved venue) and “single” doses from AB de
Villiers and Alviro Petersen.
The Lankans could only post 239 in reply,
although in their follow-on applied themselves much better and nearly got to
the 350 mark, only confirming that the strip held few real demons.
Of course memories are still very clear of
the prior Test match at Newlands, a little earlier in the 2011/12 season, when South
Africa also beat arch-rivals Australia by eight wickets in a wacky,
No fewer than 23 wickets tumbled on day two
of the three-day encounter, with South Africa’s first innings of 96 being
quickly followed by the Baggy Greens’ 47 all out in their own second turn at
But Flint is by all accounts not having any
sleepless nights over that match, and nor should he: it was simply what he diplomatically
describes as “hopefully a freak occurrence”.
After all, if there was any suspicion of
serpents hissing just below the deck, such fears were laid totally to rest by
South Africa restoring sanity to proceedings in knocking off the target of 236
with only two wickets falling, and both Smith and Hashim Amla registering tons.
Although Newlands has hosted plenty of
limited-overs contests this season at franchise level, there has been only one
Sunfoil Series fixture, completed shortly before Christmas when the log-leading
Cobras thrashed the Titans by 10 wickets.
But the one-sided nature of the match was
probably more because the visitors fielded a particularly raw, young side than
because the Highvelders were spooked by the conditions, in which first Justin
Kemp and then fellow-veteran Johann Louw earned five-wicket hauls.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing