at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
It’s a simple equation for New Zealand. Win or bust in the final Test of their home summer series against South Africa at the Basin Reserve on Friday evening South African time.
The Proteas have a rather simpler equation. A draw will be enough for the visitors to seal the Test series after they thumped the Black Caps by nine wickets last week in Hamilton.
And with the weather set to play a dominant role in the proceedings over the next five days, the likelihood of a stalemate is a great possibility.
Considering the beleaguered state of the home side though, South Africa may only need the minimal time that will be available to wrap up the victory and a 2-0 series win.
However, nobody seems to have conveyed this message to Proteas fast bowler Morné Morkel. The lanky quick is well aware that despite South Africa comfortably winning the last Test, there have been moments where the Black Caps have contested manfully and have even held the upper-hand on|occasion.
“The margins have been quite small, it could easily have gone the other way,” Morkel said. “We were 88/6 in the first innings of the Hamilton Test, and if they bowled us out with a bit of a lead then their guys might have batted quite differently. It’s about recognising the moment and playing it well, to win it and transfer the pressure onto the other team. It’s about pressure and how much the team can handle the pressure.”
Morkel, therefore, sees an opportunity, and to borrow one of coach Gary Kirsten’s favourite phrases, for theProteas to “put their peg in the ground” here in Wellington. It is primarily the batting unit that hasn’t fired and Morkel |believes the “perfect game” is not too far away.
“If you have confidence, and we do at the moment, we know we would like to bat first and score 500-plus and play the perfect Test match,” Morkel said. “We feel we are pretty close to that. It’s not that we think we are better than them. It’s important to respect the team and the players you play against about because it’s a funny old game.
“But we have a lot of momentum going for us and we’ve got a lot of confidence. It’s nice to have that when you are playing away from home, especially in challenging conditions like these.”
The conditions, primarly the wind and rain, are certainly going to be a factor here at the Basin Reserve. There are legendary stories of the heavy roller being moved across the ground through the sheer force of the wind and ground staff hanging on for dear life while trying to remove the covers.
It really is a unique experience out in the middle at the Basin, with only three Proteas – captain Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis – having played here before. The shock factor will be even greater on this occasion as both teams have only trained at the Wellington Indoor Centre in the build-up to this Test due to rain.
“Obviously it makes it tough not to be able to go outside. Working indoors is very different to the conditions we will be up against, but at least we get the opportunity to break a sweat and get out of the hotel a bit,” Morkel said.
Meanwhile, Brett Sipthorpe, who is the man in charge of preparing the pitch at the Basin Reserve, stressed that the surface remains on track to be ready for the Test. Sipthorpe views it similar to last year’s Pakistan Test where two first innings scores of over 350 were reached despite the lack of preparation time.
“The pitch is in the same state as it was for the Pakistan Test and it played really well in that match,” Sipthorpe said. “We had an idea this weather was coming and so we had the pitch pretty well prepared on Sunday. It was hard enough to play on.”
So with the Kiwis desperate, the curator confident conditions will hold, and South Africa simply trying to play the best cricket they can play in the last encounter of their six-week tour, the action in this Test may just warm up the brave folk who do indeed come down to the Basin over the course of the next few days. – The Star