A meeting of muddied men is key to the outcome of the series between SA and Australia.
They are Hilbert Smit‚ Cricket SA’s pitch consultant‚ and the groundsmen at the venues where the four Tests will be played. They were due to gather last week to look back at the series against India and think ahead to the Australian rubber.
The focus on pitches will be sharper than usual in the wake of the character of those on which SA beat India 2-1.
Newlands was spicy — too spicy‚ if you ask its creator‚ Evan Flint. Centurion veered towards sub-continental and the Wanderers was deemed dangerous enough for play to be suspended late on the third day.
All of this happened not because the groundsmen wanted to see blood on the pitch but because the home side asked for surfaces more overtly South African in nature than normal. Except for Centurion‚ they got them.
And if they had not won the series they would have faced stern questions about the importance of being careful about what you wish for.
India sent five fast bowlers into the fray and they performed credibly‚ taking 50 wickets at 22.48. SA’s six quicks claimed 56 sticks at 18.71.
As well as India bowled‚ the Australians — whose squad bristles with‚ among others‚ Mitchell Starc‚ Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins — are likely to perform better.
And they will be more at home in South African conditions than the Indians.
So‚ dare SA try to tilt conditions to that extent again?
"I’m sure‚ for the Aussie tour‚ we won’t kill ourselves to go for sporty pitches‚" Smit said. "Their team has the same qualities as ours. We are going to take them on on proper pitches."
The series will move to the Highveld after the third Test at Newlands‚ which will be preceded by trips to St George’s Park and Kingsmead.
There is‚ Smit concurred before the groundsmen gaggled‚ much to discuss: "We’ll reflect on what happened and see what to do going forward.
"It’s not an exact science. To leave more grass‚ how much is more? And it can become excessive. Then we get what happened at the Wanderers."