Proteas

Proteas v India: Does winter cricket work?

  • SA playing India at the right venues in winter should present few problems, although history does show exceptions.
  • New Zealand are more accustomed than most opponents to tackling the Proteas ‘out of season’.
  • Spray paint and use of a hovercraft have been previous measures to try to ensure play in winter contests in SA.

South Africa tackling the Indian white-ball juggernaut on our own pitches in late August … it would be an appealing, if calendar-unorthodox way for the Proteas to roar back into action after several months of idleness due to the coronavirus.

While the planned, three-match Twenty20 series remains on rocky ground and may yet be pushed out a few months, most recent signals suggest there is a mutual desire for it to take place -- behind closed doors and in a strictly sanitised environment.

If it does proceed, it will mark a return to the rare scenario of South Africa risking winter staging of international cricket.

Especially without the need to accommodate spectators at stadiums – everything would be geared around the television spectacle, enormously lucrative for CSA purposes – it will be a gamble well worth taking if the green light comes.

Common sense in our country tells you that cricket, as for most other nations, is better geared for summer, or the bridging periods of late spring or early autumn … but South Africa also boasts enough (and considerable) differences in regional climates to be able to make winter staging of the game feasible.

Expect a strong likelihood, if the organisational ball can get rolling, that the Highveld - with possibilities in all of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Potchefstroom and Benoni - and possibly the infusion of Durban for one clash will be central to itinerary thinking.

Late winter in all those centres can be much more like advanced spring in more southern climes like Cape Town, which gets the overwhelmingly majority of its rain and coldest conditions between May and August: definite no-no time for cricket.

But the end of August in both Gauteng and vast parts of KwaZulu-Natal generally (though no guarantees) means blue skies, pleasantly mild temperatures and, on the Highveld, parched, straw-like grass ahead of the summer thunderstorm season.

New Zealand are notably better-versed than any other opponents, historically, in winter playing conditions on our shores.

Somehow, they have quite regularly found themselves tackling the Proteas “out of season” here.

The hallmark really began in mid-2006, when they arrived for a three-Test series after SA had already played both away and home prime-time series against Australia.

South Africa won the NZ series 2-0 with one draw ... the middle-game stalemate marking the first time a Test had ever been scheduled to end in May (day five was the first of that month) at Newlands, and the Wanderers, similarly, having a first-time May 5-9 rostering for the final clash.

While the Johannesburg Test was a rout in the Proteas’ favour in just three days, Newlands was more problematic because of the deep-autumnal elements.

For one thing, the pitch was awfully sluggish and “tired” after a full summer of cricket, which helped explain the Black Caps posting 593/8 declared and South Africa duly amassing 512 in their own first knock (featuring Hashim Amla’s maiden century, 149).

Makhaya Ntini (43-5-162-4) for the hosts and Dan Vettori (63-10-147-2) for the visitors will especially remember the tough first-knock bowling toil in the snore-fest.

The game was marked by repeated problems with early-morning dew, necessitating use of a hovercraft “warmer” ... not helped, either, by the need for chilly 09:30 starts because of bad light likelihoods toward the end of the day.

In August 2015, the New Zealanders again visited in winter, this time for a three-match ODI series, and there were no special snags in any of Centurion, Potchefstroom or Durban as SA prevailed 2-1.

One quirky aspect about the SuperSport Park tussle, however, was the ground-staff using a form of “spray paint” to try to create a more natural colour to the yellow outfield grass.

Almost exactly a year later, in August 2016, NZ were again arrivals here for a two-Test series.

But in a further reminder that idyllic conditions cannot quite be guaranteed at that time of year, the tamely drawn first Test at Kingsmead (August 19-23) was marked by a freak, out-of-season 60mm downpour overnight on day two.

There was then no play at all due to a persistently damp outfield - ironically despite plentiful sunshine - between days three and five, and the ground also received an official ICC warning as 11 sessions were lost.

The Proteas went on to clinch the series in better conditions at Centurion, winning by 204 runs.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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