Newlands track likely to favour batsmen, says curator
The third Test between South Africa and India will be played "on a good pitch that will last five days," Evan Flint, the Newlands groundsman, told ESPNcricinfo. With the series level at one-all, the Cape Town Test, beginning on January 2, will be the decider in the three-match series.
Newlands traditionally boasts a flat wicket that is batsman-friendly. It has the highest average score, 338.2, for any ground in the country that has hosted more than one Test. That's close to 24 runs greater than the average score at next-highest run-scoring ground in South Africa, Kingsmead in Durban. Flint said the trend is set to continue. "The pitch won't change too much from previous years." It will come as welcome news to the batsmen from both camps, who have had a tough time adjusting to the conditions in the previous two Tests.
Both the Centurion and Durban tracks were lively surfaces that favoured the bowlers initially. The track at SuperSport Park flattened as the sun came out and became excellent for batting. The surface at Kingsmead also became better for batting as the match wore on but there was something in it for the bowlers throughout. The conditions in Newlands will be vastly different.
"I would love to get the same bounce as grounds like SuperSport Park and the Wanderers," Flint said. "The type of bounce we get is different; it's more of a tennis-ball bounce." Flint said his ground offered more of a traditional South African Test-match wicket that was good for batting, particularly on days two and three and turned in favour of the spinners on days four and five.
Flint recognised that South Africa generally "want to get pace and bounce" out of their pitches at home and said he was aware of the home team's desire to exploit their own conditions. "I would like to create a surface that South Africa can get a good result on, but I've just got to do the best I can, and hopefully South Africa can play to their strengths."
There is still a bit of work to do on the surface because the weather has not, up to now, assisted Flint as much as he hoped it would. "It's still not 100%, which is a little bit disappointing. It's been very windy and quite cloudy; a bit cooler than usual, but we still need another really good day of sun." Some showers are forecast for New Year's Day but sunshine is expected to dominate the Test.
Newlands is a fortress for South Africa, where they have won 14 out of 21 Tests since readmission and lost just three, all against Australia. South Africa have beaten India twice in Cape Town, most recently in 2007. On that occasion, the match was also a series decider and South Africa's victory allowed them to clinch the series 2-1.
The one difference between the 2007 match and this one is that three years ago, South Africa went into the game having won the Boxing Day Test after losing the first Test. This season, the opposite has happened. South Africa are under pressure to bounce back after the defeat in Durban, while India are coming off a confidence-boosting win. The stage is set for a grand finale and, fittingly, the first day of the Test match is sold out.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent