Newlands curator Evan Flint has a tradition where he locks himself up in his office on the first morning of a Test to watch the entire session on television.
It is partly because he doesn’t want to be disturbed while he ascertains the quality of the surface he has served up, but it is mostly down to being a bundle of nerves.
On Friday when the much-anticipated series opener between the Proteas and India eventually gets underway – the traditional New Year Test is three days later than usual this year – there could definitely be some extra butterflies floating around.
Flint, like the rest of the curators around the country, is under no illusions about what types of pitches they need to prepare this season. Historically, this has meant surfaces that offer the Proteas’ famed fast bowlers sufficient pace, bounce and seam movement.
“Everybody is pretty clear on what they want,” Flint said in response to whether the Newlands groundstaff have been advised on what type of pitch to cultivate. “We have tweaked a few things in terms of trying to get fresh green grass and we’re also working on getting the wicket hard, so we’re rolling it, but we have to keep the grass alive at the same time.”
However, unlike his contemporaries, the current Cricket South Africa Curator of the Year faces a greater challenge to deliver the desired product. Cape Town entered 2018 with Level 6 water restrictions set to be implemented due the worst drought in the region in more than a century.
Fortunately for Flint and his crew they are allowed to utilise borehole water to maintain “the second best ground in the world”, but with restrictions in place. It for this reason that he welcomed the unseasonal rains experienced over the last couple of days as drops from heaven.
“With the pitch, we’ve been able to carry on watering it as usual every day with borehole water. But the outfield, under the City’s regulations, we’ve only watered it twice a week so it’s a little bit drier and maybe not as lush as we would like it.
“The showers that we have had this week have been a blessing though. Since I have moved to Cape Town I cannot remember it raining this time of the year, but I am certainly not complaining. It has breathed some life into the outfield.
“The challenge is that we need to leave live grass on the wicket, thin grass, so that there is pace, but we want to make sure the ball doesn’t grip and turn. Ideally, what we need is a little bit of rain in the morning and then sun in the afternoon and I don’t know how many days we will get that for.”
Did Flint flirt with the idea of leaving the strip uncovered overnight for it to be spruced up? “No, no, no that is not a risk we can take. If you knew exactly how much water was going to fall for a specific amount of time, it could be considered. But that cannot be determined. The pitch gets covered every evening and I will rather water it with a hose pipe because then it can be measured how much water it has received. It is not an exact science but it is just too much of a risk.”
Both teams arrive at Newlands on Tuesday morning to inspect the surface for the first time three days out from the start of the Test.