With bowlers on both sides ready to extract blood, Brad Haddin’s batting strategy of “get them before they get you,” certainly has merit.
South Africa’s pitches are notoriously difficult – “the hardest place to bat in the world,” according to Graeme Smith – and batting is expected to be extremely hard over the course of a three-match series, featuring five of the top 10 bowlers on the ICC’s Test rankings. Though the early signs at SuperSport Park looked ominous, much of the grass in evidence at the weekend was shaved off yesterday, and it will probably be cut once more before tomorrow’s start.
The South African team have constantly demanded pitches with pace and bounce, but that though is not what they’ve always got when playing at home. On too many occasions surfaces have been weighted too much in favour of seam bowlers, and provided too much movement.
In his comparisons of surfaces in Australia and South Africa, Smith has said those Down Under “are a lot easier to bat on, they are true, the bounce is generally even and you can hit through the line with more confidence than a lot of the time in South Africa.”
“A lot of times in South Africa, it’s the guys who have the ability to play the ugly knock that can be effective and change games,” said Smith.
Having to play such an innings requires strong minds, something that players on both sides possess.
The Australians showed that recently when they turned around what had been a very poor year in 2013, to totally overwhelm England in the Ashes. The pressure faced by South Africa has been a lot different – because they play so little Test cricket each match is a valuable entity and the demands on them to perform are enormous, given their current status in the game.
That has meant they had to learn different ways to win matches and series – often times the bigger picture has to be observed, save a Test match in Adelaide, win a Test series in Perth as was the case in 2012, and earlier this summer it was about ensuring they didn’t lose a Test at the Wanderers to give them the chance to win the series at Kingsmead.
Though a happy hunting ground for South Africa since first being granted status as a Test match venue, SuperSport Park’s pitches haven’t always been to South Africa’s liking. There was plenty of moaning about the wicket in 2011 when Sri Lanka played there and were bowled out for 180 in 48 overs. South Africa had to show plenty of grit to scrape together 411, with AB de Villiers’s 99 in that first innings, among the best knocks of his career. On the flipside SuperSport Park can also produce pitches on which it’s possible to score 620/4.
Yesterday both Haddin and Hashim Amla said it was best to put all thoughts about what to expect from the pitch out of one’s mind. Amla’s record here suggests he doesn’t mind what kind of surface is prepared – he’s made three centuries and scored 678 runs at an average of 84.75 – and that any recent issues that came out of the India series where he made just 43 runs in three innings and was bowled all three times, won’t be of concern to him for the first Test.
“I’ll just try to not get out freakishly again,” Amla quipped, “as a batsman you are keeping things pretty much exactly the same wherever you’re playing and you assess the situation, the pitch, the tempo of the game and the circumstances on the day.”
Whatever the state of the pitch, Haddin seems to thrive when the pressure is at its highest. He came to his side’s rescue in four of the five Ashes Tests recently, when his side fell five wickets down for less than 150. “It will be a challenge against these guys and first innings runs in any Test match are important.
“That will be a big thing for us, making sure we get first innings runs and making sure we get them big and quick.”
February 12: First Test, SuperSport Park, Centurion
February 20: Second Test, St George’s, Port Elizabeth
March 1: Third Test, Newlands, Cape Town
March 9: First T20, St George’s, Port Elizabeth
March 12: Second T20, Kingsmead, Durban
March 14: Third T20, Supersport Park, Centurion - Cape Times