Cape Town – A tame stalemate is virtually guaranteed now to
the mud-bedevilled first Test between South Africa and New Zealand at Kingsmead
… but the Proteas, particularly, should still aim for a properly focussed, last-day
gallop in the field if conditions allow on Tuesday.
Apart from the fact that they could earn the psychological satisfaction
of nominally winning the first-innings scrap if they bowl out the Black Caps
for fewer runs than their own mediocre 263 – the visitors will resume on 15 for
two – Faf du Plessis and company would benefit greatly from further “middle”
It is especially important that their bowlers get an
industrious day, or at least a healthy chunk of it, beneath their belts after
their Kiwi counterparts had almost 88 overs between them on day one and the
small portion of available play on the second before the complete abandonment
of proceedings on days three and four.
By contrast, the Proteas have only been able to send down a
measly 12 overs thus far, albeit that all of them have gone to the two seamers
who probably need them the most, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.
A fullish Tuesday workout for Steyn, Philander, Kagiso
Rabada and the off-spinner Dane Piedt would assist their preparations for the
start of the second, now decisive encounter at SuperSport Park on Saturday.
Of course the New Zealanders would also wish to take
advantage of any chance to stabilise their knock and then allow quality time at
the crease for some of their remaining batsmen, so don’t expect too much “joke”
cricket on Tuesday if the players finally make it back onto the ground.
The Proteas really need any extra playing time they can earn
together more, given that their opponents at least had the unifying, sharpening
benefit of a Test series in Zimbabwe immediately preceding this one.
Two very separate issues are at play regarding the
unfortunate fiasco that has been this country’s first ever August Test match,
where at times there was the infuriating spectacle of bright sunshine yet outfield
conditions deemed too dangerous to play on.
One is that Cricket South Africa should not be castigated
for allowing the scheduling of cricket in this format in late winter.
On an increasingly sardine-packed global itinerary across
the planet, any feasible window for activity should be banked, even if
traditionalists will doubtless lament the fact that Tests seem to increasingly
be shedding their prime seasonal positioning in some countries – often at the
expense of more crowd-pulling one-day fare and ubiquitous Twenty20 tournaments.
Nor is it that the Proteas, desperately seeking to claw back
up the rankings from No 7, are short of Test matches in the looming
summer-proper: they have series away to Australia, home to Sri Lanka, and then
away to the Black Caps at the end of it.
Some overseas-based pundits, probably not aware of South
Africa’s very different regional rainfall patterns, have a little naively lambasted
CSA for “risking” home Test cricket in winter.
In weather statistical terms, however, subtropical Durban
seemed a very safe call for the first Test – disruptive summer rainfall is
actually much more a threat there -- and the same applies to the Centurion
venue where the second is thankfully set, according to long-term forecasts, to
be contested in pretty glorious spring-like conditions.
But a freak cut-off low-pressure cell caused unusually
intense rain havoc in Durban and many other centres in the country a few weeks
ago, washing away specially-laid new outfield grass at Kingsmead, and then
another savage, unseasonal 65mm overnight downpour after Saturday’s play
compounded the problem by creating a near-inevitable proliferation of outfield
mud on the barest, most vulnerable patches.
It was, however, a stark reminder that CSA and the major
franchises under its jurisdiction which host internationals need to implement
more, and better, safeguards against disruption to play.
As commentator and former Indian Test batman Sanjay
Manjrekar said on Twitter (@sanjaymanjrekar): “ICC must insist that all Test
grounds have covers that cover the entire ground.”
Another critic, and one well-known to South Africans, Mike
Haysman (@MikeHaysman) added: “Cricket is competing with too many (other)
attractions in this modern world. It can’t afford to lose eyeballs.”
Sadly the latest drama will have done little to bury
Kingsmead’s reputation as a jinxed venue for the Proteas; it also remains a
ground where bums on seats are hard to come by, regardless of time of year.
Still, for all its reputation for rain and bad-light issues,
the very likely draw on Tuesday will represent the first stalemate in Tests at
the ground in 10 fixtures – the last was between SA and England back in the
But the Proteas have also lost as many as six of those nine
They will be happy, no doubt, to move onward to the Highveld.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing