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Newlands prepares to host Australia Test despite drought

The Newlands outfield soaked up plenty of water BCCI

The Western Province Cricket Association (WPCA) is working proactively to get off the municipal water grid before the Newlands Test against Australia that starts on March 22, as the region's worst drought in over a century threatens to turn Cape Town's taps off.

The City of Cape Town has earmarked April 12 as Day Zero, when residents will have to queue at 200 water points to receive an allocation of 25 litres per person per day, and is currently imposing Level 6B water restrictions - which limits people to 50 litres a day - and all areas of life are being affected, cricket included.

In October, club-cricket fixtures were cut by almost half and, now, the club season has been cancelled. No more matches will take place between the 70 clubs affiliated to WPCA this summer and there will be no promotion or relegation system. Instead, WPCA will appoint a task team to decide how they will approach the 2018-19 season. Schools fixtures have also been called off, though some schools with access to their own boreholes may continue to play, something that is beyond WPCA's control.

Provincial men's and women's matches will continue to take place as normal, as will franchise cricket, and the three internationals still scheduled for Newlands - an ODI against India on February 7, a T20 double-header on February 24 and the Test against Australia in March. While the February fixtures will take place while there is still water to be had, the Test match cuts close to Day Zero and, by the time it is played, Newlands hopes to be self-sufficient.

Making use of their own groundwater will mean Newlands will be able to accommodate for the more than 20,000 people expected in the stadium each day without using municipal water in their bathrooms. The borehole water will not be drinkable but other sources of drinkable water are being investigated.

Currently, the Newlands outfield and nets are only watered once a week but with the internationals approaching, WPCA management are in touch with the City to seek permission to water twice but will not push for the go ahead. "We are having a bit of a debate at the moment because the outfield is just starting to brown," Nabeal Dean, CEO of WPCA, told ESPNcricinfo. "We need to ask ourselves if we want the world to see a green outfield when we are in a drought or if we want them to see reality."

While the outfield may end up less pristine than normal, pitch preparation will be unaffected. Groundsman Evan Flint managed to produce a surface with pace, bounce and that had enough green grass on it to facilitate seam movement for the New Year's Test against India that was played from January 5 and Dean has no reason to believe Flint will struggle with his Australia pitch, especially given the underground water that Newlands has access to.

A century ago, the site on which the ground now stands was a lake and Dean was told that if 100,000 litres of water are used from the underground supply, it could be replenished within an hour.

The only other commitment WPCA have are incoming tours from English club and county sides, some of whom enjoy spending their pre-season in South Africa. Typically those clubs are hosted at clubs like Western Province Cricket Club, an elite establishment with two boreholes on its site, and Dean said WPCA will therefore "make an effort to accommodate them within the guidelines of the restrictions".

What Dean could not answer is whether it is wise to have international touring teams staying in a city that is about to run out of water. That is up to higher authorities in government, perhaps, and so far, no major events in Cape Town have been called off. The Cape Cycle Tour, the largest individually-timed cycling event in the world, will go ahead on March 11, while the Two Oceans Ultra and Half Marathon is set to be run on March 31, just 12 days before the city is set to run dry.

Cricket South Africa were approached for comment on whether any cricket would be affected but had no updates to provide yet.