South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion December 14, 2011

Green Centurion pitch awaits teams

41

One of sport's most important lessons is that looks can be deceiving. Hashim Amla's prominent backlift was believed to be an insurmountable stumbling block on his quest to be a successful international batsman. More than 4,000 Test runs later, it's seldom criticised. Lovers of the five-day game will hope this logic applies to pitches too, because at first glance the Centurion strip threatens a match that will end in fewer.

Without any mincing of words, the pitch is green. It is not a strip of brown with patches of green, it is pretty much entirely green. Bowlers will drool at the sight of it, batsmen will quiver, but the groundsman Hilbert Smit, will nod wisely, knowing there is something more to it than meets the eye.

"People see it as more of a danger than it really is," Smit told ESPNcricinfo. "It's quite thick grass at the top, not thick, patchy grass that creates seam movement. We've also prepared it to be quite hard underneath but the harder we can get it, the better."

While Smit acknowledged that he is preparing a surface which will aid pace and bounce, he said that his first priority was to create a result pitch, that will see the game end "late or on day four or after that." He also steered away from reinforcing that it is a bowl-first surface and said that the captains will have to think further than just day one and should be seduced by first impressions.

"South Africa will have to decide if they want to bowl first and bat fourth, where they will face a spinner on a pitch that may take turn or if they can see off the Sri Lankan seamers for a while on the first day. Sri Lanka will have to decide if they want to bowl first, where their spinners won't come into play or if they should wait to bowl last," Smit said. "The more I can confuse the captains, the better."

Under clearing skies, with minimal rain forecast, the pitch is likely to lose some of its nastiness by morning and ease out as the match goes on. Still, Graeme Smith could not hide his grin when asked about it although he did manage to temper his response. "It could be interesting, especially day one, it might do a little bit," he said. His counterpart, Tillakaratne Dilshan, said this was "definitely the greenest pitch" he had ever seen in South Africa.

South Africa is synonymous with pace-friendly pitches and they crank it up a notch when they are due a visit from a sub-continental side. Most of the time, it has worked in their favour. Recently, though, it has worked for and against them, with bowlers from both teams benefiting from the conditions. Smith said although the teams are looking forward to exploiting their own conditions, South Africa will not get overly enthusiastic because green tops have served both them, and their opposition well.

"We know that South African conditions can turn a seamer with a limited record into a seamer with a very good record," Smith said, "So, we have respect for the conditions we are playing on and the challenges we face in the next few weeks."

Instead, Smith said he will encourage his bowlers to show maturity in the way they approach their tasks. "Control is a word we can use, more in mindset more than anything else," he said. "Our bowlers must not to get too emotional, must execute their plans well and be aggressive in the right mindset. The attitude with which we bowl is going to be very important."

South Africa's batsmen will also have to prepare for an assault from Sri Lanka's attack, who may relish the chance to play in favourable conditions. "It's a different challenge for our batters. We've come off a series [against Australia] where the four bowlers we faced were bowling at over 145kph," Smith said. "Now, we will face different challenges."

Sri Lanka are expected to rely on accuracy and persistence to create breakthroughs and Dale Steyn said it is a strategy, that if employed properly, could be successful. "When we played Australia, we had a guy like Shane Watson who put the ball in the right areas and he made it really difficult. He wasn't bowling anywhere near the pace of [Mitchell] Johnson or [Peter] Siddle but he got a lot of wickets," Steyn said. "And that's what these guys can offer. We're quite wary of that."

Although Sri Lanka have suffered a series of injuries to their pack of fast bowlers, but the rest of the attack, who are largely unknown to South Africa, could prove to be their X-factor. "The fact that we haven't seen them makes them dangerous," Hashim Amla said. "It will be a bit more of a challenge for us."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ammar7may on December 15, 2011, 8:13 GMT

    In green pitches, to let the host bat is a better approach, if the visiting team won the toss. It unveils you the character of pitch and more likely boost your confidence by taking earlier chances, which would have long lasting effect on the mindset of both the teams. Playing near to the body can be the second technique. Using front foot be the third technique to avoid 80% of swing.

  • Dr_Van_Nostrand on December 15, 2011, 7:08 GMT

    I love watching Test cricket in South Africa. They always produce pitches that always produce perfect Test cricket. Other nations should take notice.

  • stormy16 on December 15, 2011, 6:20 GMT

    This is no different to what SA would expect to see if they visited Galle for example, which will spin early. The only issue is when teams visit SL they have huge issues about the pitches favoring the home team but when the reverse occurs everyone seems ok with it. The other point is the ICC recently issued a warning to Galle due to the pitch but the two subsequest series Aus played in, games have finished earlier than Galle with lower scores (Newlands and Hobart) but the ICC seems happy about that. Seems to me as long as the conditions are seamer friendly its fine but if its spin friendly there is a huge problem.

  • sawifan on December 15, 2011, 4:12 GMT

    if a home side produces a track to suit their strengths, whether green or flat, it doesn't matter, it's home advantage. The problem many people have with curators from the sub-continent in the past is, after the home side takes a 1-0 lead in the 1st test on a turning pitch, the following pitches are very flat, leaving draws to be the most likely outcome, leaving the home side ahead. That, is not right! And most complaints from proper, honest cricket fans about pitches on the sub-continent aren't about turning wickets that produce results, they are about very flat wickets that end in bore-draws! And the problem with produce 'green' pitches or 'big-turning' pitches, is that they can easily backfire (as they did recently in Hobart and Galle, and others), making it hard to bat for both sides, however, flat pitches rarely backfire, the result is known from the start.

  • rahulcricket007 on December 15, 2011, 3:52 GMT

    @SINHAYA . MY FRIEND , OUT OF 5 WC MATCHES 3 WERE PLAYED IN AUS(1992) , SA(2003) , ENG(1999) ON GREEN WKTS BUT WHAT HAPPENED ? PAK LOSE EASILY . FURTHUR MORE THEY LOSE TWICE DURING BENSON - HEDGES 1985 CUP TO INDIA IN AUSTRALIA , LOSE IN T20 WC TO INDIA , . OK SO THINK BEFORE COMMENTING INDIA HAS BETTER RECORD AGAINST PAK AT NEUTRAL VENUES . OH AND YOUR MAIN BOWLERS GUL WAS EAISILY THRASHED BY INDIANS IN WC . INDIANS THRASHED SHOAIB , WAQUAR IN 2003 WC . LAST TIME INDIA PLAYS A SERIES AGAINST PAKISTAN INDIA WIN 3-2 . AND TEST SERIES BY 1-0 IN 2007.

  • Marcio on December 15, 2011, 3:39 GMT

    It's hard to see SL being competitive here. There only chance is if they bat second. If SL bat first, I see a big win for SA.

  • Mfalme on December 15, 2011, 2:50 GMT

    Mark my words, more than batting or bowling, SL fielding (catching) is going to let them down very badly.

  • Mitcher on December 15, 2011, 2:16 GMT

    I think the vast majority of commenters lack understanding of the so called green track/flat track debate. In fact, in my mind, that's not even the argument. I love to see 'result' pitches. So a 'flat' road that offers nothing to bowlers, boosts the averages of average players, and offers no chance of a result - is a problem. If that's the argument, then I'd take a green top any day. A 'turning track' is a different story as that is a result pitch. But please people, don't defend flat wickets, unless you enjoy boring cricket.

  • on December 15, 2011, 2:04 GMT

    go sri lanka.......we are waiting..u can do it..i am sure.my team 11 dilshan paranavitana sanga mahela thilan mathews chandimal mendis welagedara dilhara herath

  • dsig3 on December 15, 2011, 1:38 GMT

    I was impressed with Sri Lankan seamers when Aus toured this year. They are not world beaters but they are very young and have some promise. I dont think bowling will be their biggest worry, batting will be interesting. When Aus played SA their bowling was very good.

  • ammar7may on December 15, 2011, 8:13 GMT

    In green pitches, to let the host bat is a better approach, if the visiting team won the toss. It unveils you the character of pitch and more likely boost your confidence by taking earlier chances, which would have long lasting effect on the mindset of both the teams. Playing near to the body can be the second technique. Using front foot be the third technique to avoid 80% of swing.

  • Dr_Van_Nostrand on December 15, 2011, 7:08 GMT

    I love watching Test cricket in South Africa. They always produce pitches that always produce perfect Test cricket. Other nations should take notice.

  • stormy16 on December 15, 2011, 6:20 GMT

    This is no different to what SA would expect to see if they visited Galle for example, which will spin early. The only issue is when teams visit SL they have huge issues about the pitches favoring the home team but when the reverse occurs everyone seems ok with it. The other point is the ICC recently issued a warning to Galle due to the pitch but the two subsequest series Aus played in, games have finished earlier than Galle with lower scores (Newlands and Hobart) but the ICC seems happy about that. Seems to me as long as the conditions are seamer friendly its fine but if its spin friendly there is a huge problem.

  • sawifan on December 15, 2011, 4:12 GMT

    if a home side produces a track to suit their strengths, whether green or flat, it doesn't matter, it's home advantage. The problem many people have with curators from the sub-continent in the past is, after the home side takes a 1-0 lead in the 1st test on a turning pitch, the following pitches are very flat, leaving draws to be the most likely outcome, leaving the home side ahead. That, is not right! And most complaints from proper, honest cricket fans about pitches on the sub-continent aren't about turning wickets that produce results, they are about very flat wickets that end in bore-draws! And the problem with produce 'green' pitches or 'big-turning' pitches, is that they can easily backfire (as they did recently in Hobart and Galle, and others), making it hard to bat for both sides, however, flat pitches rarely backfire, the result is known from the start.

  • rahulcricket007 on December 15, 2011, 3:52 GMT

    @SINHAYA . MY FRIEND , OUT OF 5 WC MATCHES 3 WERE PLAYED IN AUS(1992) , SA(2003) , ENG(1999) ON GREEN WKTS BUT WHAT HAPPENED ? PAK LOSE EASILY . FURTHUR MORE THEY LOSE TWICE DURING BENSON - HEDGES 1985 CUP TO INDIA IN AUSTRALIA , LOSE IN T20 WC TO INDIA , . OK SO THINK BEFORE COMMENTING INDIA HAS BETTER RECORD AGAINST PAK AT NEUTRAL VENUES . OH AND YOUR MAIN BOWLERS GUL WAS EAISILY THRASHED BY INDIANS IN WC . INDIANS THRASHED SHOAIB , WAQUAR IN 2003 WC . LAST TIME INDIA PLAYS A SERIES AGAINST PAKISTAN INDIA WIN 3-2 . AND TEST SERIES BY 1-0 IN 2007.

  • Marcio on December 15, 2011, 3:39 GMT

    It's hard to see SL being competitive here. There only chance is if they bat second. If SL bat first, I see a big win for SA.

  • Mfalme on December 15, 2011, 2:50 GMT

    Mark my words, more than batting or bowling, SL fielding (catching) is going to let them down very badly.

  • Mitcher on December 15, 2011, 2:16 GMT

    I think the vast majority of commenters lack understanding of the so called green track/flat track debate. In fact, in my mind, that's not even the argument. I love to see 'result' pitches. So a 'flat' road that offers nothing to bowlers, boosts the averages of average players, and offers no chance of a result - is a problem. If that's the argument, then I'd take a green top any day. A 'turning track' is a different story as that is a result pitch. But please people, don't defend flat wickets, unless you enjoy boring cricket.

  • on December 15, 2011, 2:04 GMT

    go sri lanka.......we are waiting..u can do it..i am sure.my team 11 dilshan paranavitana sanga mahela thilan mathews chandimal mendis welagedara dilhara herath

  • dsig3 on December 15, 2011, 1:38 GMT

    I was impressed with Sri Lankan seamers when Aus toured this year. They are not world beaters but they are very young and have some promise. I dont think bowling will be their biggest worry, batting will be interesting. When Aus played SA their bowling was very good.

  • johnathonjosephs on December 15, 2011, 0:57 GMT

    Sri Lanka in huge trouble now. Only hope can come by a youngster who does some magic and/or the older members of the batting team stepping up. Paranavitana's style looks like it may come in handy here

  • Afridynamite on December 14, 2011, 21:29 GMT

    @Sinhaya, Pakistan has a pace attack which none of the other subcontinent teams can claim to have, which is why they all do poorly outside of home.

  • Sinhaya on December 14, 2011, 21:01 GMT

    @S.Jagernath, indians are only big names. BCCI can intimidate other cricket boards not to use UDRS for tests and make sure umpiring howlers go in india's favor. India are no one. India took 19 years to get their first ever test win. India wins test matches because umpires are scared of giving LBW decisions against Tendulkar and co. Saw what happened to India in England?? INDIA GOT HAMMERED 4-0 BUT SRI LANKA LOST ONLY 1-0 due to the Cardiff mess. INDIA HAS NO CHANCE AT ALL AGAINST PAKISTAN! PAKISTAN WILL THRASH INDIA 3-0 IN TESTS AND 5-0 IN ODIS!

  • Sinhaya on December 14, 2011, 20:49 GMT

    @satanswish, yeah I know you cant fathom that a small country like Sri Lanka can win test matches. Dude, Sri Lanka have beaten all teams in test cricket. Harbhajan did well in SA last year, so then Herath and Mendis can do well too. Pakistan have won 2 tests in SA, so nothing can stop the Lankans winning in SA!

  • on December 14, 2011, 20:46 GMT

    keep an eye on dale ssteyn he will be on fire.........

  • spence1324 on December 14, 2011, 19:48 GMT

    Should not have told SL because thay are like india ' why can we not have a flat one ' then storm off in a big sulk.

  • S.Jagernath on December 14, 2011, 19:13 GMT

    This should be a lot of fun.I just hope this pitch does not flatten too much.Sri Lankan cricketers have created great names for themselves due to playing in Sri Lanka mainly,finally they will be revealed as the fakes they are.Their averages of 50+ will finally be realised as skewed statistics.

  • on December 14, 2011, 19:03 GMT

    iF Sa says we are flat track bullies what about SA which lost 2-0 in Tests & 5-0 in ODis when they played in Sri Lanka for the last time ?

  • steveoehley on December 14, 2011, 18:44 GMT

    @G.Sri - That's sort of my thinking too, though it depends who wins the toss

  • on December 14, 2011, 18:14 GMT

    @ priceless1, man u have invented a priceless word, The green track bullies, haha, so its a contest between green track bullies and flat track bullies, since the series playing in green track, green track bullies would win, so whats the big deal?

  • sehwaguparcut on December 14, 2011, 16:33 GMT

    @priceless1 green track bullies ... lol

  • Mathu. on December 14, 2011, 16:27 GMT

    Ok, SL may be under dogs but they were doing better than expected in the first practice match against invites XI of SA. Let's wait & see how they will cope up with pace & bounce, I am sure SL batters are also prepared for conditions. Good luck for both teams and looking forward to watch good test matches

  • COOLANKA on December 14, 2011, 15:59 GMT

    our bowling attack is very suite to south african batsmen And i believe we are going to win test series 2/0.. we are lions but not groaning...LETS DO IT BOYS.........

  • NairUSA on December 14, 2011, 15:49 GMT

    Home advantage to SA for sure. However, subcontinent teams like SL can spring a surprise if their batsmen bat with discipline. Hope to see a close fight than a one sided affair.

  • satanswish on December 14, 2011, 15:22 GMT

    @Sinhaya - Like your Mendis & Herath bowl as fiery as Donald & Pollock. They should consider themselves lucky if their single delivery turns on this green turf. Stop dreaming dude!

  • couchpundit on December 14, 2011, 15:07 GMT

    I can chip in for Lawn mower cost, honestly i never realised SA cricket board is in financial ruins.

    Please let me know where i can send money for lawn mower.

  • Sinhaya on December 14, 2011, 14:50 GMT

    South African batting will stand no chance against Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath!

  • priceless1 on December 14, 2011, 14:11 GMT

    The green track bullies are ready

  • vallavarayar on December 14, 2011, 13:27 GMT

    Doesn't look like this series is going to provide Sri Lanka their first ever test win in SA.

  • Srini_Indian on December 14, 2011, 13:20 GMT

    Score after day 1: SA won the toss and elected to bowl. SL 85 all out. Steyn 22/4 Morkel 30/2 Philander 25/4. SA 158/3. Kallis and DeVilliers batting.

  • JosRoberts on December 14, 2011, 13:19 GMT

    Seeing this and the pitch in Hobart it's nice to see that the groundskeepers aren't preparing dull pitches.

  • on December 14, 2011, 13:13 GMT

    SRI LANKANS WILL EASILY SWEEP THIS ONE

  • satanswish on December 14, 2011, 13:09 GMT

    Scores like 47, 96 etc. etc. are on the cards for Srilanka. SA Pacers will prove too much for this much-hyped SL team. SL have even forgotten to win on their turning homesoil after Murali's retirement. I wouldn't be expecting a single draw from Srilankans. Indians put a decent show last year in South Africa but I don't think Srilakan batsmen are not capable to withstand fiery SA bowling attack.

  • HankasHarry on December 14, 2011, 13:04 GMT

    The question is how good SA really are. They have not managed to kill off games against Aus, India or Eng, even tho they should have. They have the best fast bowling unit in Steyn & Morkel (backup Philander & maybe soon De Lange). They have among the best batsmen in Amla, AB, Kallis & maybe even Smith. They seem to have found a solution with Tahir as a wicket-taking spinner. On the surface the most complete team in world cricket. Unfortunately you cannot nurture or find the legal 12th player with the first name "Killer" & surname "Instinct". This player is just as important as the other departments. Aus of the 90's had him in the team, as did Windies of the 80's. This player is born between the other 11 players. Now it's time for SA to show if they have been fertile or not. If SA cannot make this happen over the next 12 months, then they will always be an "almost-there" team, capable of beating every other team, but never being able to smell blood.

  • Brenton1 on December 14, 2011, 13:02 GMT

    South Africa shouldnt need a green pitch. They are a stronger team and should prevail without the aid of the pitch. Why take the risk of losing the toss and being asked to bat first on a seamer friendly wicket that may flatten out on day 2 and 3.

  • lankavigi on December 14, 2011, 12:55 GMT

    SL's situation is really similar to that of a minnow going to SA. SL are touring SA knowing that they are going to lose. In fact to put it better, A MINNOW IS TOURING SA.

  • rahulcricket007 on December 14, 2011, 12:33 GMT

    HMMM . ANOTHER GREEN TOP IN SA . IN THE RECENT SERIES AGAINST AUS FIRST TEST WAS OVER IN 3 DAYS . IF DUE TO BAD LIGHT & RAIN TIME HAS NOT BEEN LOST THE SECOND TEST WOULD HAVE ALSO BEEN OVER IN 4 DAYS . NOW ANOTHER TEST IS THREATNING TO COMPLETE IN 4 DAYS . BUT NO BODY IS COMPLAINING ABOUT PITCHES BEING TOO SEAMER FRIENDLY , BUT THEY WILL START SHOUTING IF IND , SL PREPARE TURNING PITCHES THAT WILL END THE GAME IN 3 , 4 DAYS LIKE THE RECENT INCIDENT IN GALLE . THE SECOND TEST WILL BE AT DURBAN WHICH I BET WILL END IN 3 DAYS IF RAIN DOESN'T INTERRUPT . IF SA CURAOTRS PREPARE PITCHES LIKE THESE THEN THE 5 DAY GAME WILL TURN FOREVER INTO 4 DAY GAME . .

  • RandyOZ on December 14, 2011, 12:31 GMT

    SL could loose by an innings every match

  • satish619chandar on December 14, 2011, 12:13 GMT

    Good to see SA produce green tracks even after it backfired twice against India and Australia.. The real mettle of SL bowling will be out now.. They had played mostly in flat tracks Post-Murali era and now would love the green tracks.. SA attack as always ll be more than handy in home conditions.. Good contest between bat and ball is always good for tests..

  • VirajSam on December 14, 2011, 12:09 GMT

    sri lanka did much better than what india did in england , india lost all of the matches they played in england , they played SA and able to won a game , so in that sense SL will do better job than india did in SA , get it ANJAN28 . :LOL

  • ANJAN28 on December 14, 2011, 11:53 GMT

    The South African seamers will simply tear apart the Lankans.

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  • ANJAN28 on December 14, 2011, 11:53 GMT

    The South African seamers will simply tear apart the Lankans.

  • VirajSam on December 14, 2011, 12:09 GMT

    sri lanka did much better than what india did in england , india lost all of the matches they played in england , they played SA and able to won a game , so in that sense SL will do better job than india did in SA , get it ANJAN28 . :LOL

  • satish619chandar on December 14, 2011, 12:13 GMT

    Good to see SA produce green tracks even after it backfired twice against India and Australia.. The real mettle of SL bowling will be out now.. They had played mostly in flat tracks Post-Murali era and now would love the green tracks.. SA attack as always ll be more than handy in home conditions.. Good contest between bat and ball is always good for tests..

  • RandyOZ on December 14, 2011, 12:31 GMT

    SL could loose by an innings every match

  • rahulcricket007 on December 14, 2011, 12:33 GMT

    HMMM . ANOTHER GREEN TOP IN SA . IN THE RECENT SERIES AGAINST AUS FIRST TEST WAS OVER IN 3 DAYS . IF DUE TO BAD LIGHT & RAIN TIME HAS NOT BEEN LOST THE SECOND TEST WOULD HAVE ALSO BEEN OVER IN 4 DAYS . NOW ANOTHER TEST IS THREATNING TO COMPLETE IN 4 DAYS . BUT NO BODY IS COMPLAINING ABOUT PITCHES BEING TOO SEAMER FRIENDLY , BUT THEY WILL START SHOUTING IF IND , SL PREPARE TURNING PITCHES THAT WILL END THE GAME IN 3 , 4 DAYS LIKE THE RECENT INCIDENT IN GALLE . THE SECOND TEST WILL BE AT DURBAN WHICH I BET WILL END IN 3 DAYS IF RAIN DOESN'T INTERRUPT . IF SA CURAOTRS PREPARE PITCHES LIKE THESE THEN THE 5 DAY GAME WILL TURN FOREVER INTO 4 DAY GAME . .

  • lankavigi on December 14, 2011, 12:55 GMT

    SL's situation is really similar to that of a minnow going to SA. SL are touring SA knowing that they are going to lose. In fact to put it better, A MINNOW IS TOURING SA.

  • Brenton1 on December 14, 2011, 13:02 GMT

    South Africa shouldnt need a green pitch. They are a stronger team and should prevail without the aid of the pitch. Why take the risk of losing the toss and being asked to bat first on a seamer friendly wicket that may flatten out on day 2 and 3.

  • HankasHarry on December 14, 2011, 13:04 GMT

    The question is how good SA really are. They have not managed to kill off games against Aus, India or Eng, even tho they should have. They have the best fast bowling unit in Steyn & Morkel (backup Philander & maybe soon De Lange). They have among the best batsmen in Amla, AB, Kallis & maybe even Smith. They seem to have found a solution with Tahir as a wicket-taking spinner. On the surface the most complete team in world cricket. Unfortunately you cannot nurture or find the legal 12th player with the first name "Killer" & surname "Instinct". This player is just as important as the other departments. Aus of the 90's had him in the team, as did Windies of the 80's. This player is born between the other 11 players. Now it's time for SA to show if they have been fertile or not. If SA cannot make this happen over the next 12 months, then they will always be an "almost-there" team, capable of beating every other team, but never being able to smell blood.

  • satanswish on December 14, 2011, 13:09 GMT

    Scores like 47, 96 etc. etc. are on the cards for Srilanka. SA Pacers will prove too much for this much-hyped SL team. SL have even forgotten to win on their turning homesoil after Murali's retirement. I wouldn't be expecting a single draw from Srilankans. Indians put a decent show last year in South Africa but I don't think Srilakan batsmen are not capable to withstand fiery SA bowling attack.

  • on December 14, 2011, 13:13 GMT

    SRI LANKANS WILL EASILY SWEEP THIS ONE