South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion December 15, 2010

Weather set to play a big part

Conditions in South Africa are being dubbed the deciding factor in the three-Test series between South Africa and India. While that mostly refers to the pitches and the fact that South Africa are preparing bouncy wickets for the first Test in Centurion, it also includes the weather.

Overcast and rainy conditions have had many locals wondering who the Grinch who stole the Gauteng summer is, and why he has replaced it with a Cape Town winter. It has rained every day for the past week, some of the time in typical Highveld thunderstorm fashion, and at other times in drizzly, damp, depressing London-style.

For those who have not had the pleasure of experiencing the former, it goes something like this: mornings are stunning with azure skies and candyfloss clouds. Those clouds don't remain cuddly balls of fluff for too long though. They quickly turn in to angry, dark monsters that start off grumbling in low tones before their voice-boxes explode and the booming thunder bounces off the city's walls. Spears of lightening split the sky and drops the size of puddles hammer the streets. Sometimes, they are accompanied by chunks of hail. The wind usually picks up and then sheets of rain and hail are swept in one direction. If you end up caught in it, it feels like the end of the world.

Usually, the bad dream is over around 90 minutes later and the pretty blue sky returns, the sun peeps out and everything smells fresh. By sunset, there's not a trace of a storm, just splashes of purple and pink painting the sky before nightfall. If there's cricket on, they'd be guaranteed a rain interruption, but also assured to get some play in once the storm passes.

Some of the storms in the past seven days have been exactly like this, others seem to have had their clocks wound the wrong way. Instead of the clear blue, people have woken up to a dreary grey. Rain drops have come down in an irritating drizzle before the storm has built up the courage to arrive. The afternoons have cleared and sunshine has seen us to the close of the day.

Wednesday was neither of the two. The wet weather made itself comfortable, settling in for the day. It was too afraid to pour its heart out all at once, and dribs and drabs of misty wetness engulfed both Johannesburg and Pretoria. Weather forecasts had warnings out for flash flooding. If only the rain was just a flash.

Thursday's forecast is more of the same, but it is expected to clear by the evening. Friday and the weekend are predicted to be clear, sunny and beautiful, with the rain returning on Sunday evening, but making way for summer on Monday. In cricketing terms it means that the pitch will favour the bowling side first since all the moisture will made it a juicier surface than it was intended to be.

Whoever wins the toss is likely to bowl first if play is possible early on day one. If most of the day is lost to rain, then it may be safer to bat first, and make optimum use of the conditions on the second and third days. The chief groundsman at Centurion, Hilbert Smit, explained earlier in the week that if temperatures nudge above 30 degrees Celsius, the wicket will flatten, making it good for batting.

It's likely that the fourth and fifth day could be interrupted by showers as well, but they might take the form of the typical thunderstorm and not the persistent wet that has dominated the past two days.

The first day of the Test may not live up to expectations, because there is a real chance it will be washed away. It seems certain that the match will get underway though. Fans may just have to wait a little longer than they initially thought.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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