New Zealand in South Africa / Features

South Africa v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 1st day

South Africa's midwinter madness

On the South African Highveld, from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, the grass dies in the winter and it never rains. It is cold, often bitterly so. In Cape Town, by contrast, it normally rains a lot in the winter and the grass is saturated

Neil Manthorp

April 27, 2006

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Stephen Fleming basks in the orange light of the South African winter © AFP
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On the South African Highveld, from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, the grass dies in the winter and it never rains. It is cold, often bitterly so. In Cape Town, by contrast, it normally rains a lot in the winter and the grass is saturated. It is also, usually, very cold.

Neither climate is conducive to any cricket, let alone attractive cricket, yet New Zealand and South Africa are battling away in the middle of the rugby season with a pile of sweaters on stand-by, bad light a constant threat, morning dew on the outfield and appalling 9.30am start times which have given the bowlers an obscene head start.

Actually, the part about 'bad' light is untrue. The light at this time of the year is undeniably beautiful, a combination of molten gold and long, stretching shadows which, provided you are wrapped up in your winter woolies, are a joy to watch.

But umpires with light metres don't see it that way and when the sun dipped just behind Table Mountain during the Newlands Test in Cape Town on Thursday, the players left the field despite a wash of orange-tinged daylight and a cloudless sky. The floodlights were turned on, too, for good measure. And the start of play was delayed because the outfield was wet.

The third Test will be played at the Wanderers in Johannesburg just six weeks away from mid-winter with rugby's Super-14 competition approaching the semi-final stage.

So why is this nonsense happening? Is it greed? Or just bad planning?

South Africa's officials and administrators cannot afford to say what they really feel, but they all know - as do the players - that the season should have finished with the departure of Australia three weeks ago. Even that would have represented the latest finish to a season ever in South Africa.

But the ICC's decision to stage their inaugural (and financially lucrative) Super Series between Australia and a World XI in October last year meant that South Africa's three-Test, five one-dayer series against the Kiwis could not be concluded as scheduled - also in October.

"It was never our intention to play cricket at this time of the year," said Brian Basson, the United Cricket Board of South Africa's Manager of Playing Affairs. "The late fixtures arose out of our inability to complete our series against New Zealand in October due to the ICC's Super Series. That's why we had to reschedule the Test matches against New Zealand at the back end of our season." To say he was terse would be kind.

There is nothing sublime to add to the ridiculous of winter cricket in South Africa, but there appears no end to the ridiculous. In order to try and make conditions playable for the scheduled start on day two, somebody has had the bright idea of using a hovercraft to glide around the outfield at the crack of dawn clearing the early morning dew.

But nature is nature. And the cricket season is the cricket season. Perhaps the ICC could find a way of keeping the sun up a bit longer. Or maybe they could help lower Table Mountain.

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency

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Neil Manthorp Neil Manthorp is a writer and broadcaster based in Cape Town where he started the independent sports news agency MWP Media in 1992. He has covered more than 40 tours and 120 Test matches since South Africa's return to international cricket and Zimbabwe's elevation to Test status. A regular commentator for SABC radio, Neil has also joined the host radio teams in West Indies, New Zealand, Australia and England - where he preferred Test Match Special's pork pies to their chocolate cake. He recently completed Gary Kirsten's biography.
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