South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth February 18, 2014

'Furry' pitch greets teams at St. George's


What do Hashim Amla and the St George's Park pitch have in common? Both have gone unshaven for a long time. 

"That pitch scares me at the moment," Adrian Carter, the Port Elizabeth groundsman, told ESPNcricinfo. "I'd like to give it a cut. If it was left like this, I'd be skeptical even for the franchise game because I think there would be a lot of assistance for the seamers."  

Carter left more than just a healthy covering of grass on his pitch, raising Australian eyebrows, as he awaited instruction from the South African camp, which will likely see a lot of it cut-off.  "At the moment, its very furry and it's green," Carter said, before his meeting with Domingo and Co. "I have had a phone call from the South African camp and I'll talk to them again and see what they want. There's a lot of experience in Adrian Birrell and Russell - between them they've coached here for over 10 years - so they know St George's as well as anyone."

As soon as the squad arrived at the ground, Domingo, who coached the local franchise - the Warriors - before becoming Gary Kirsten's assistant, and Birrell, who is a former Eastern Province coach, headed straight for the strip. They examined it with Carter, and were joined by bowling coach Allan Donald and Graeme Smith. The conversation appeared good-natured and shortly afterwards, Carter was relaying instructions to his assistants. 

It's likely South Africa will want some to keep some grass on the surface to assist their own pack, but not so much as to roll out a red carpet for Mitchell Johnson. Morne Morkel, though, said the nature of the pitch should not make a difference to Johnson. "Whether it's a slow wicket or a quick wicket, if a guys is going at 150kph, its quick," Morkel said. "So the pitch won't play a big role in whether a guy like that is effective or not. He is bowling well so it the pace of the wicket doesn't matter." 

Those words had barely left his mouth when Morkel stressed the pitch will not resemble what he called the quickest Centurion pitch he has seen in 10 years. "It will be completely different from the Highveld," he said. "We know it's a touch slower and there's an almost subcontinent feel."

Carter concurred saying even with the grass covering, St George's will never be like SuperSport Park as that simply isn't its character. "I was going through the archives the other day and looking at a report from a Test match here from the early 1900s and they said it was played 'on a slow pitch'. So this pitch has been slow for 114 years. I can't get it quicker," he said. "I don't think St George's will ever behave like Centurion. It's different clay, it's at the coast." 

Seam movement and swing, rather than bounce, will be an early factor with the wind being an additional element. So far, it has been blowing from a westerly direction, which comes from inland, and is known as the drying wind that flattens the surface out. But is likely to change direction over the course of the next few days, to become more easterly, which comes off the sea, brings clouds, rain and good news for bowlers.

That will probably mean the surface won't be allowed to dry out too much and the spin factor may not be as important as it can be here. Carter also said he expects it to hold together for a large part of the match. "We don't get very big cracks. We might get small hairline cracks that open up two millimetres." 

With that type of surface, Carter said he has been quite pleased with "our four-day pitches over the last few seasons." There have been two four-day games played at St George's Park this summer, both high-scoring. In the Warriors-Cobras clash both teams made over 500 in their first innings and the trend sort-of continued into the Warriors-Titans game. Then, the Warriors made 502 but bowled an under-firing Titans line-up out for under 250. 

Tellingly, Wayne Parnell took eight wickets in the game and Simon Harmer, the offspinner, finished with six. Considering it will be a similar pitch this time, that may influence South Africa's selection and see Parnell make a Test return on his homeground. And by then, the pitch should only have as much stubble as he does.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Adrian on February 20, 2014, 10:23 GMT

    Doctoring the pitches should be banned at international level. The ICC should get involved and ensure that all surfaces are fair to both sides.

  • Jon on February 19, 2014, 16:50 GMT

    Excellent from SA, I really hope they play on a sluggish green top. The pitches in England were perfect to play against Aus, slow and moving around a bit. Aus have the bowlers to capitalise but guys like Warner and even Clarke to an extent have often been found wanting when the ball jags around a bit. Should be an interesting game but I am backing SA to come back and roll the Aussies in this one. Philander on a green top is a nightmare.

  • C on February 19, 2014, 14:31 GMT

    The problem for South Africa is that the Australian pace attack is more than a match for theirs. Siddle and Harris move the ball very well. So I'm not sure that anything they do to the pitch can give them an advantage.

  • Cricket on February 19, 2014, 13:11 GMT

    The groundsman would be skeptical if there was a lot of assistance for the seamers. And? Why shouldn't there be something for the bowlers given that they're basically canon fodder in T20s and ODIs. Alternatively, the groundsman could take the novel approach of preparing a true test wicket - one where the batsman have to work for their runs and bowlers have to work for their wickets.

  • Trevor on February 19, 2014, 11:28 GMT

    @ModernUmpiresPlz Regardless of whether it is a drop in pitch or not, the same clay that is used for the WACA pitch will be used for the pitch at the new stadium. Also, Cricket Oz has made it clear that test matches will still be played at the WACA while only the bigger ODI's and T20's will be played at the new stadium. Oh, Ashes test might be played there too given the high demand for tickets.

  • rob on February 19, 2014, 11:22 GMT

    @ Thegimp : Very good point. In fact, I'll take it. .. When you look at it football has had a massive impact on Australian pitches. Let's face it. They're no longer cricket grounds. They're more footy grounds that allow cricket to be played on them in the off season. .. Sad in a way, but true.

  • Brady on February 19, 2014, 10:43 GMT

    For mine a pitch that goes to the fifth day, minimises the influence of the toss and gives an opportunity for all skills to be showcased is a good pitch. Usually that means a bit in it for the seamers on day 1 morning, good batting day 2/3 and start to take turn on day 4/5. Of course, each individual venue will have unique qualities and that's part of the charm of international cricket. In the interest of the long term integrity of the game, what we don't want is pitches where the game is over inside 3 days and is practically decided by the toss. It would be very sad if that were to be the case for this test match.

  • Prasanna on February 19, 2014, 9:56 GMT

    I have a lot of respect for SA. They have an excellent record overseas. Little surprising to see how they have gotten curious about the strips being laid !! Not sure if Aus ever did that during our period of dominance !! Hope we get over the line this time as well !!

  • Karl on February 19, 2014, 9:42 GMT

    Yoicks. I've never heard the like of this before. Normally when acussed of doctoring a pitch the curator denies it and blames the late rain, fungus in the grass or some other odd event. I think in future it best for sides to boycott PE in future.

  • Fuzail on February 19, 2014, 9:40 GMT


    Thanks for the Input . It Would be a Real Shame If WACA is Finished as a Test Match Venue in Favor of Bigger Stadiums . The Adelaide Oval is not the Same any More IMO . Offcourse an India vs Pakistan match in the 2015 world cup at the Adelaide oval would be Great to Watch as the new Stands Can hold more than 50k i Guess . That would be Awesome . But for the Test Matches i would Definitely Miss the Old Adelaide Oval . It Was perfect for a Test Match .

    I Guess now Brisbane , Melbourne , Sydney and Adelaide would be the Venues for India vs Australia Series 2014\15 ( with Mtch bowling @ 150kmph , I don`t think we are gonna win a Test at all ) . I Do Hope that WACA gets more Test in the Future . Its one of the Best Test Match Venues and it would be a Real Shame if it no Longer holds Test Matches .

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