The Proteas were not best pleased by the pitch prepared for last season’s Test there against the India – the second of that series – with Faf du Plessis making his feelings very clearly known.
It’s not certain anyone at Cricket SA or the Northerns Cricket Union have been listening, because some of the pitches prepared at SuperSport Park this season, for the four-day competition and the Mzansi Super League, have been slower and the bounce lower than is tradition.
Just this week, AB de Villiers, after scoring 93 not out in an MSL match, said he found it very hard work.
“In my day, you knew what you would get from a Centurion wicket, and of late it seems to have changed,” Gibson said yesterday.
“The groundsmen know what sort of pitch we want – a good old Centurion pitch with a little bit of pace and bounce in it. Centurion normally never spins and if it does spin, that happens on day four or five. Last year it turned from the first session, it was a little bit different.”
While Gibson was being diplomatic, his Pakistan counterpart Mickey Arthur was more forthright.
“The pitch has changed totally. In the Test last year it looked like they were playing in the UAE, the surface was totally bare.
“I’m not sure what’s going on over there, and if it does turn, well, flippin’ happy days for us,” said Arthur, who knows those kind of conditions will suit his side’s ace leg-spinner Yasir Shah.
Meanwhile, Gibson is adopting a cautious approach with his quick bowlers.
Having initially wanted them to play for their local franchises when the domestic four-day competition resumes next week, the national coach has withdrawn Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier.
The injuries to Vernon Philander – who has a hairline fracture on his right thumb and will miss the first Test at least - and the long-term knee injury to Lungi Ngidi has left South Africa’s fast bowling resources depleted and with the three Tests against Pakistan being played back-to-back, Gibson’s circumspection is understandable.
For the batsmen, the physical toll isn’t as severe, and Gibson wants them to change rhythm from T20 cricket to the Test format.
“I’ve found that it’s difficult coming from T20 cricket, where you have to score off every ball, to Test cricket, where one of the best shots is the leave. I’d like the guys to get some of that,” he said.
Some of the batsmen will be closely scrutinised next week. Theunis de Bruyn has a back injury which forced him to withdraw from the Tshwane Spartans squad midway through the MSL and will test it for the Titans, who will play the Warriors in East London, while Hashim Amla has looked in poor form in the T20 competition.
“Hash has been carrying niggles that have not allowed him to do the things that he wants to do. The fact that the (MSL) has finished a little earlier for him means he can go back and get some solid work done around Test cricket. His experience means he’s had dips in form before and he knows what he needs to do to work it out,” said Gibson.
“I chatted to him this week and I’m pretty sure he’s having a net today because he is probably desperate to get back to watching the ball again.
“T20 wants you to score off every ball and Hash maybe just wants to have the opportunity to leave a few before he starts to expand.”@shockerhess