New Zealand have two big reasons to worry about the second Test against the Proteas at Centurion, starting Saturday.
April 2006 and November 2007.
The Kiwis have played just two Tests at South Africa’s youngest ground, which saw its first Test in 1995. And in both of those Tests, they took an awful whipping, mostly at the hands of Dale Steyn. He likes Centurion. Really likes Centurion. In those two matches he has taken 17 wickets at an average of 13.7, with a best of 6-49. Overall, in eight matches in that strange outpost on the Hennops River, he has picked up 48 wickets at a shade under 18 with a best of 6-34.
Back in the first match, in 2006, New Zealand may even have believed they had a chance when they dismissed the Proteas for 276 and then ran up 327 in reply. Trouble was, 214 of those came from Jacob Oram (133) and Daniel Vettori (81). When offered a target of 249 to win, neither of those, nor any other could withstand the fury of Mkhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn, who took all 10 wickets with just 120 on the board. They were 28-6 at one stage before Brendon McCullum (33) and Vettori (38) made a bit of a stand.
Worse was to come in 2007. Steyn took 10 wickets (4-42 and 6-49), aided by Ntini and Andre Nel, as New Zealand went down by an innings and plenty.
Ntini is ploughing fresh pastures north of the Limpopo. More than adequately filling the void is one Kagiso Rabada. It is worth remembering that in the last match played at Centurion, the fourth Test against England in January, this young upstart took 13 wickets for 144 runs (7-112 and 6-32) as England collapsed rather ignominiously to a 280-run loss.
In 21 matches, South Africa have won 16 and lost only two: to England and Australia.
Actually, all the above is wholly irrelevant, as stats are anyway, but more so because this is August. Never has Centurion had a Test in August.
The surface has been relaid and the groundsman thinks that it will hold up, and not deteriorate as it usually does. But, he says, it may be a bit on the slow side. It has never been a place for spinners, but all bets are off.
One bright prospect is that it won’t rain. Or so they say.