Pitches could decide Test series against Sri Lanka

2011-12-15 00:00

PITCH preparation will play a key role in the Test series between South Africa and Sri Lanka, which starts today at Centurion. The Proteas, who have not won a home Test series since their victory against Bangladesh in 2007, will be keen to convert their fondness for home conditions into a series win. They have an arsenal of pace bowlers accustomed to taking advantage of the hard, bouncy wickets, and will hope to exploit the Sri Lankan batsmen’s dislike of pace and steep bounce.

Captain Tillakaratne Dilshan leads a side that contain only a couple of players whose last tour of South Africa was nine years ago. Besides his vast experience, and Kumar Sangakarra and Mahele Jayawardene’s, Sri Lanka’s exposure to South African conditions is limited, although some of their players have represented their country’s A and U19 sides here. Facing super-quick bowling on the fast-paced bouncy wickets of South Africa is quite a daunting prospect for the Sri Lankans. Their success in the series will be determined by how quickly their batsmen come to terms with these unfamiliar pitches.

The importance of pitch preparation was highlighted in the thrilling second Test match between Australia and New Zealand in Hobart. Australia dominated the first test match in Brisbane on a hard, flat pitch. The Australians needed only 19 runs in their second innings to secure a nine-wicket victory over the Black Caps. Things were very different in Hobart where a seaming wicket was produced and overhead conditions were ideal for New Zealand’s swing bowlers. Australia opened the door for New Zealand to level the series in a low-scoring test match.

Dale Steyn, speaking ahead of the Proteas first Test match, admitted that the Protea pace attack is out to make the Sri Lankans feel awkward and uncomfortable by “hitting their bats higher than they are used to”. Steyn, Morné Morkel and Marchant de Lange will be chomping at the bit to rip through the visitors’ batting line-up.

The second Test match at Kingsmead, which starts on Boxing Day, is likely to provide little respite for the Sri Lankan batsmen. There is every chance that curator Wilson Ngobese will produce a traditional pacey Kingsmead wicket with a generous covering of grass.

The final Test match of the series will be played in Cape Town. The Newlands faithful will be hoping to see more cricket than they did in the record-breaking Test against Australia, which ended in just two-and-a-half days.

That match was played early on in the season, so in theory the wicket should play far better in January after weeks of sun and drying out by the South-easter.

Of all the pitches, Newlands should be most to Sri Lanka’s liking, but the series may well be decided by then.

The Proteas will be hoping that by the time they get to Newlands, in the new year, they will have inflicted enough damage on the Sri Lankans to wrap up the series and cement their place as the number two-ranked Test side in the world.

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