Concerns over player safety on a soft outfield caused three abandoned days in the Durban Test and an eventual draw, despite both teams being "very keen" to get on the park. Faf du Plessis and Mike Hesson said the South Africa and New Zealand camps were "extremely disappointed" and "frustrated" after playing only four out of 15 sessions, but respected the decision of umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth not to allow further play.
"It's up to the umpires to make an assessment of whether the ground is safe or not," du Plessis said. "As cricketers or sportsmen, we generally don't look at all the factors, we just want to get out there. From our perspective, we wanted to play but the general feeling was that the ground was unsafe. There were quite a few areas that were a bit muddy and a bit loose on the foot. They were very worried that if you were to sprint or make sudden movements on it, you could get badly injured. The message was pretty clear from the umpires that player safety was their main concern and we respect that."
Kingsmead's recently relaid outfield took 65 mm of rain on Saturday evening, which sunk into the sandy patches caused by the scarifying process that left scant grass in several areas. A full day of sun on Sunday and winds of up to 70kph on Monday were enough to dry it out but the ground underfoot did not harden and the match was called off before the scheduled start of play on Tuesday.
In particular, patches around the boundary and on the edges of the square were inspected by the umpires over the two days and were found to give way underfoot, highlighting what was obvious even before the match began - that the outfield needed more time to recover from the work that had been done earlier in the winter. "From the time we arrived at this Test match, we knew that the outfield was in a poor state and obviously it just didn't cope with the rain," Hesson said.
Solutions such as moving the boundary in or using a drying agent like sawdust were non-starters because the laws do not permit changing field dimensions once play has started and sawdust is only used once there is an indication of when play will be possible. In hindsight, covers on the entire outfield could have kept it protected, but Kingsmead does not own full ground covers, which cost around R400,000 (US$30,000), and none were borrowed from nearby clubs.
The covers made a significant difference as was evident from the square, which remained in pristine condition throughout the match. Du Plessis even admitted he would have been happy to field close-in, but it was the outlying areas that posed a danger.
"I wouldn't have minded standing in the slips because there wasn't much happening there but the areas of concern were the boundaries. If you fielded at fine leg and had sprint around or you have to dive for a ball at mid-off, take a catch or something like that, that was a concern," he said. "As a player, when a ball is going in one direction, I am going to run and dive and try and stop it. I don't think of what's happening on the outfield. It's the umpires' job to think of those things. I am there to try and win a game of cricket for my country. The modern game of cricket allows the umpires to make the decision to make sure player safety is important."
Du Plessis also conceded that neither side wanted to take the chance of losing a player to an injury that could be avoided. "If we had got on the field and a bad injury happened, both teams would have been pretty upset. From a captain's point of view, if one of your strike bowlers ran around the boundary and hurt himself by doing it, you would be upset," he said.
As far as conditions in the middle were concerned, though, seamers on both sides had had reason to smile, as Kingsmead presented them with one of the best pitches seen at the ground. The surface had a significant grass covering, which aided seam movement and had good bounce and carry. New Zealand restricted South Africa to 263 on it, before Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander brought back memories of old in a 12-over period in which they had New Zealand 15 for 2. With the visitors' best batsmen, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, at the crease, it was shaping up to be an interesting tussle.
"We were dying to get out there because we had them in a spot of bother and on that wicket, there was still a lot of assistance. It was a great cricket wicket," du Plessis said. "There was a bit of movement for bowlers, a bit of swing and if you knuckled down and you were prepared to bat for time, you could score some runs on it. I think it would have been a really good Test match."