'One of the more dangerous wickets I've played on'
Shane Watson has described the Potchefstroom pitch as "dangerous" and "disappointing" after the Australians won their tour match against South Africa A inside three days. The surface had variable bounce, making it extra difficult for the batsmen to judge how to play shorter balls, with some skidding through and others climbing awkwardly.
Several batsmen from both sides were struck on the helmet - notably Shaun Marsh and JP Duminy - and the body as they tried to duck short balls that didn't rise, and it was hardly what the Australians wanted as they prepare for a Newlands pitch likely to be slower. Watson said it was the toughest pitch he had batted on since the Bellerive surfaces during his early days as a Tasmania player.
"It was one of the more dangerous wickets that I've played on," Watson said. "When the ball is swinging and seaming, that's a big challenge, but when some balls are sort of rolling on the ground and other balls are taking off a length as well, it makes it pretty dangerous, especially when you've got high quality fast bowlers as well, to take advantage of that.
"It was as big a challenge as I've seen in a wicket probably since my days in Hobart, when the conditions there weren't ideal for one year. Things hopefully will only get better, wicket wise.
"It's disappointing, no doubt. But it is a challenge. In the end we were here to get as much as we can out of this game as a tour match, to have as good a preparation as we can for the first Test. That's the cards that were dealt and I think the majority of the guys got a lot out of these three days to be able to make sure we're ready to go."
Watson made the best of the situation in the second innings, scoring 77 from 73 balls when Australia were chasing 212 for victory. Having fallen for 6 on the first day, he attacked hard, pulling and cutting with muscle, a highlight coming when he drove Vernon Philander straight over his head for four and followed up two balls later with a powerful front-foot pull for six over long-on.
"The way the wicket was, I knew I was going to have to try and put a bit of pressure on the bowlers to get them thinking about where they were trying to bowl the ball," he said. "The majority of the time that's my game plan, to put the pressure back on the bowler. There's no doubt the outfield is very, very fast as well, so that helped the scoring-rate as well."
The Australians fly to Cape Town on Friday to prepare for next week's first Test, and the tour match has given the selectors plenty to ponder about the make-up of the attack. Mitchell Johnson's nine-wicket game was an encouraging sign, Peter Siddle has posed a strong challenge to Trent Copeland for the third seamer's position and while Patrick Cummins is also in the mix despite not playing.
"Mitch bowled beautifully throughout this game," Watson said. "To see him swing the ball, I think that's a great thing. He did that during the one-dayers as well. That's always a very good sign that he's in a really good place with his game. I think Peter Siddle bowled well. It's going to be a very interesting selection over the next couple of days. We've got Ryan Harris to come back in as well, so it's going to be interesting for the selectors."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo