England have never beaten South Africa at Centurion. Well, statistically, they have, but we are going to ignore that.
The results list for matches against England at Centurion, since the first-ever Test there in 1995 should read: Played 4, Won 0, Drawn 3, Sold 1. For a leather jacket and R53,000.
There is a certain irony that match-fixing is hitting the headlines ahead of the Centurion Test, for it was here, in January 2000, that Hansie Cronje contrived to fix a rain-plagued match. Both sides forfeited an innings and England successfully chased down a generous target offered by the South African captain.
While the England captain Nasser Hussain leapt with joy when the winning runs were scored, Mike Atherton remembers feeling horribly ‘flat’, saying he didn’t feel that Test match win had been earned. The win was sullied and dirty.
So England have a score to settle, and will seek a win to be proud of.
But other elements come in to play. Rain is a major factor and more than a few matches have lost time to the persistent precipitation.
That may explain why so many teams, having won the toss, elect to bowl first. That and the fact that SuperSport Park has traditionally favoured the quickies.
In the 20 matches played at this ground South Africa have won the toss on nine occasions and in SEVEN of them elected to bowl first. And only once, against Australia in 2014 did that backfire and they lost the match. The opposition thinks the same way, except they were not so adept: England drew in 2005 and 2009, but West Indies (1999, 2004, 2014) and Sri Lanka (2001) sent the Proteas in to bat and came up horribly short.
Only four teams (New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) have opted to bat first and they were all hammered.
So South Africa’s record at the ground reads an impressive Played 20, Won 15, Drew 3, Lost 1, Sold 1.
It is slightly off-putting that the opposition hasn’t always been of the highest quality. While South Africa played England four times, they have played Australia only twice (1-1), Sri Lanka four (4-0), West Indies three (3-0), Pakistan twice (2-0), New Zealand twice (2-0), Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe once each. Of those 15 wins, seven were by an innings; one was by 10 wickets.
Given the Proteas dominance, it is no surprise that the average first-innings score at the ground is 320. But if you take out the times that the opposition put the Proteas in, enabling them to score big, the average is 297.
Those big scores included the 604 against the West Indies, when Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs put on 301 for the first wicket, with Gibbs later falling three runs short of a double hundred. The Proteas also scored 552 against the Windies (2014), when Hashim Amla became top-scorer at the ground with 208.
Incidentally, the best bowler on this ground is Kyle Abbott, whose 7-29 helped destroy Pakistan in 2013.
Against India in 2010, the Proteas ran up their highest score, in the second innings, of 620-4 declared.
To regain a bit of pride in this series, they are going to have to do it again…
Forecast: Friday: Partly cloudy, 75% chance of rain in the morning and afternoon, a high of 28 deg C; Saturday: Partly cloudy moving to moderate rain in the evening, a high of 27; Sunday: Partly cloudy, 60% chance of light rain in the afternoon, a high of 26.