South Africa expect 'grafting' pitch
South Africa expect to have to put in more work with the bat than they have done in the home season so far in the second Test against Pakistan in Cape Town. Hot weather in the build-up to the match has left the surface dry and set up what Allan Donald called a "grafting wicket," for what could turn out to be the bowlers' first challenge of the summer.
None of the three Tests played so far have gone the distance largely because South Africa's attack has cleaned up opposition cheaply. This time though, they may not have conditions to facilitate that.
"It's not quite a 49 all out pitch," Alviro Petersen, South Africa's opening batsman said after examining the Newlands strip. Although there was rain in the city over the weekend and some is expected on Wednesday, neither Donald nor Petersen thinks the nature of the pitch will change too much and both expect a "good Test wicket," that will provide a more balanced contest.
Pakistan will benefit from that. "If there is one ground where they can bounce back its Newlands," Petersen said. Not only will it be gentler in terms of pace and bounce, it is the surface most likely to provide something for the spinners although South Africa are mindful to keep that to a minimum. "We don't want to bring their spinners into it at all," Donald said.
What it means for South Africa is that more responsibility will fall on the batting line-up than at any other time in the home season. They showed they were ready to front up in the first Test when Graeme Smith chose to bat in tricky circumstances at the Wanderers with a lot of swing on offer.
Their total of 253 appeared below-par and probably was until the bowlers inflated it by dismissing Pakistan 49. "Our bowlers deserve all the praise they are getting because they have often got us of tight situations," Petersen said. "So often, we have a second innings lead and then we can approach batting differently." More aggressively, in other words.
South Africa's recent Test victories have been achieved that way. Because their bowling gives them an advantage, they have been able to bat sides out of the match. At Newlands, Petersen believes they may have to rein that in and he is confident they will be able to. "We've learnt to defend at the right time and attack at the right times. But you have to be able to adjust game plans," Petersen said.
To prepare, Petersen played for Lions in their final first-class match of the summer against Warriors in Port Elizabeth. He had the dual purpose of helping the franchise contend for the title and getting match time against an attack similar to Pakistan's.
Like the tourists, Warriors have a left-armer in Wayne Parnell, and a wicket-taking offspinner. Simon Harmer is no Saeed Ajmal but he is the spinner who has claimed the most scalps this season. Andrew Birch, the Warriors medium-pacer, is also among the leading bowlers in the first-class competition so Petersen feels he got in valuable practice.
Petersen was the only Test batsman to feature in the final round of first-class matches but said the rest had been preparing in their own ways. "We don't want to get into a casual mode," Petersen explained.
While the batsmen prepare for a sterner examination of technique, the bowlers, with the knowledge that harder work awaits them, are being monitored by Donald to ensure they are at their peak. "It's important to keep in check with their attitude every day and that's what we do," he said. "They've got their feet on the ground, they are humble and they know their games inside out."
Donald maintained that the current crop is "without a doubt the best I have seen," but did not get carried away with that admission. He acknowledged their habit of taking wickets off no-balls - which happened twice in the first Test - is "unacceptable," and stressed that they will aim to "stick to the high standards we set for ourselves," at Newlands. With or without assistance, the quicks are guaranteeing they will not let up.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent