Picture: istock
Picture: istock

By this stage of last season in franchise first-class cricket in SA‚ victory had been celebrated on nine occasions more than it was a summer later.

Of the 15 matches played since the 2017-18 campaign started on September 19‚ only one has been won or lost. Just five of the first 15 games last season ended inconclusively.

A total of 30 franchise first-class matches were played last season. Eleven were drawn — in only one more than half as many games this summer.

Rain? Two days were washed out in last season’s first 15 games‚ five days this time round with play on another limited to 28.3 overs.

But that does not fully explain what happened. Perhaps timing really is everything.

Only once in the franchise era has the season started earlier than this one — in 2009-10, when the first ball was bowled on September 17.

That did not stop six victories from being rung up in the first 15 games‚ albeit in November that three of them were achieved.

Even so‚ might the spring start to this summer be the main factor in the deluge of draws?

"That’s definitely played a role on the highveld and at other inland grounds‚" Newlands groundsman Evan Flint said.

"Their grasses go dormant in the winter‚ so it takes a while for them to wake up."

Draw disappointment

Flint admitted his "square is as fully grassed as it’s ever been‚ so I don’t have that excuse. You beat yourself up a bit‚ and you’re disappointed when you’re into day four and you can see it’s going to be drawn."

This happened at Newlands two weeks ago‚ when the Cobras replied to the Warriors’ first innings of 347 by batting for 26 overs on the second day and all but six overs of the third day before declaring at 530/8.

Four centuries were scored in that match — among them Cobras opener Pieter Malan’s 195 — and Cobras left-arm fast bowler Michael Cohen was the only bowler to take five wickets in an innings‚ and that at the cost of 107 runs.

"We prepared our normal four-day pitch where there was a bit of assistance for the bowlers‚ but it didn’t pan out that way‚" Flint said.

He consulted Cobras coach Ashwell Prince and "his sum-up to me was that the bowling was possibly not as consistent as it needed to be".

Flint said while it was hard work‚ "there was enough in the wicket that if you put 10 out of 12 balls in the right place, you might have got something".

Flint’s exception to what may be that rule was Vernon Philander‚ who took 5/44 off 30 overs for the Cobras against the Dolphins in Oudtshoorn last week.

"That showed that if you’re good enough to build up pressure, you will get batsmen out that way as opposed to nicking them off all the time‚" Flint said.

South Africans could be a touch uneasy with that‚ what with India due in SA in the new year. Indian batsmen tend to struggle in South African conditions‚ just as South Africans have had their problems in India.

For many South Africans‚ there will be unfinished business from their team’s most recent Test series to India in November 2015. Perhaps stung by the visitors’ victories in the one-day and T20 series‚ the Indians prepared outrageously spin-friendly surfaces for the Tests — one of which was condemned as "poor" by the International Cricket Council.

So‚ if SA’s pitches are friendlier than usual this time‚ what chance of their bowlers being able to extract payback?

"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what kind of pitches we want to play India on‚" Flint said.

The first Test is scheduled for Flint’s own patch at Newlands‚ starting on January 5.

"Let’s hope that on January 5, it’s flying past Virat Kohli’s nostrils‚" he said.


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