South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion

Green Centurion pitch awaits teams

Firdose Moonda at Centurion

December 14, 2011

Comments: 41 | Text size: A | A

Chanaka Welegedara bowls at the nets, Colombo, April 20, 2010
The South Africans are wary of the Sri Lankan seamers because the teams haven't seen each other much of late © AFP
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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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by 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.

Posted by   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

Posted by 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.

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