It’s often said tongue-in-cheek, but the toss at Newlands on Friday could be a good one to lose.
There are mixed messages coming back as to how the Newlands wicket will play in the first Test against India after preparations were severely hampered by the drought.
Groundsman Evan Flint said it has been a tricky preparatory period. ‘With the pitch, we’ve been able to carry on watering it as usual every day with borehole water. The challenge is to leave live grass on the wicket, thin grass, so that there is pace, but we want to make sure the ball doesn’t grip and turn.’
The ideal situation, he said, would have been to get a little bit of rain in the morning and then sun in the afternoon, but there has been precious little of the wet stuff and an overabundance of the sun.
Not even recent history will give a clear picture of what can be expected.
Last year against Sri Lanka, the scores were low, apart from the Proteas’ opening offering of 392, in which right-arm quick Lahiru Kumara took six wickets. And that score was based on just two outstanding innings: Dean Elgar’s 129 and Quinton de Kock’s 101. Pace continued to dominate; Vernon Philander (4-27) and Kagiso Rabada (4-37) saw off Sri Lanka for 110, while Suranga Lakmal came to the fore in South Africa’s second innings of 224-7 declared. Rabada (6-55) and Philander (3-48) wrapped it up 20 overs into day four.
Contrast that to the previous year, when England came to visit. When each had completed their first innings, only 13 wickets had fallen and 1 256 runs had been scored (England 629-6 dec; South Africa 627-7 dec). But on the fifth day, off spinner Dane Piedt ran through their middle order to bring a little frisson to the occasion. Jonny Bairstow dug in to halt a remarkable turnaround.
In 2015, it was the spin of Simon Harmer that cracked the West Indies top order on the first morning, before Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel finished the job.
‘Everybody is pretty clear on what they want,’ said Flint ‘We’ve tweaked a few things in terms of trying to get fresh green grass and we’re also working on getting the wicket hard, so we’re rolling it, but we have to keep the grass alive at the same time,’ Flint said. ‘It will help the bowlers out in the beginning but it’s not going to be the Wanderers or Centurion.’