With pitch conditions, it’s feast or famine in South Africa

2013-02-22 00:00

WITH a unique landscape and a crazy climate, South African pitches all have their different characteristics, and it’s up to the players to deal with it.

I have always been fascinated by how a cricket pitch behaves.

It was unfortunate that in my school days pitch squares were often cordoned off and if there was an intrusion, Mr Randall and his crowd of hardworking groundsmen had their means of keeping us off. It was peculiar that they gave the B field track that much attention. It was a square turner by schoolboy standards, and funnily enough, it provided the most exciting matches. Not to say that the A field wasn’t decent, but there was something mystical about the B field.

Watching Saeed Ajmal wheel away on a Newlands track as orientally as one can find in South Africa, I was reminded of Boeta Dippenaar’s rant some two or so weeks ago about South African pitches at first-class level not being conducive to good cricket. Irrespective of the state of the pitch, there was some good quality cricket and there was a proper Test on South Africa’s hands. The fact that they were able to overcome Pakistan was down to some quality old-ball bowling that nullified the threat of having to haul down a large fourth innings total. The Newlands pitch had a very similar, if not dustier, look to it in the 2007 New Year’s Test. That year, India — the masters of the slow and low tracks — could not get past the Proteas.

Professional sportsmen are paid to do the job in all conditions except for lightning and snow.

The latter will not be seen unless there is drastic climate change and the former is a common feature of the South African summer.

The scorching sun and the rain that accompany our summer make for interesting pitches and there will be times when batsmen do not have it their own way.

Such trials and tribulations can only make them better and sharpen their techniques.

You only need to look across the Indian Ocean to see how anodyne wickets and a lack of initiative from groundsmen create the Asian batsman that is stereotyped as being unable to deal with the moving ball. The politics of how the pitches are prepared on the sub­continent are dicier than walking up a dark alley at night.

There is no such interference in South Africa, but what is served up in Johannesburg cannot be expected in Cape Town. Every four days or so, there is a downpour and humid conditions to keep the tracks fresh and well nourished.

Newlands does not have that kind of luck and with the prevailing south-easter, keeping the 22-yard strip nourished takes a lot more work. Only the hard clay base keeps Newlands from crumbling. The Eastern Cape, with its rather temperamental weather, will always be home to the country’s slowest and most unpredictable pitches. After all, St George’s Park’s behaviour, much like Kingsmead’s, is heavily dependent on the wind direction.

It needs to be remembered that the Test countries with the most variable pitches have more often than not given the game its best batsmen. If a batsman is class, conditions are often rendered redundant and bad pitches make for good batsmen. Despite his rather modest returns, plying his trade on The Oval gave Alec Stewart his excellent reputation in handling pace bowling. On the flip side, he struggled against spin. Countering this point, Damien Martyn was schooled on the Perth flyer, but some of his best performances were fashioned in India and Sri Lanka.

Rallying cries and complaints about dodgy tracks? There will be feast and there will be famine.

If SuperSport Park is a green top, let it be, for there will be a Buffalo Park to teach a batter to play the slow ball. Not that there is a lot of it going around.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.