Pitch battles continue to blight Newlands

Once more, the playing surface at Newlands is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Twelve months ago when South Africa met Pakistan it was the pitch itself that was slammed after it proved as bad as it looked as neither side passed 200. Now it is the outfield under attack.
The problem was obvious from the start of play as well-timed shots were strangled by overlong grass which, according to many pundits, reduced the first-innings totals by 30 to 40 runs. The closer to the boundary the ball went the worse the problem grew, leading one on-air commentator to describe the conditions as "ridiculous". Even the players were unhappy, with Neil McKenzie admitting that "the soft underfoot conditions ... made it hard work for the bowlers running in".

The Western Province authorities brought in Peter Muzzell, a specialist pitch consultant, to help with the build-up. He admitted that the grass was too dense which made it slow. "The grass wasn't cut short enough during the past month," he told the Independent. "But you can't scalp it down now, because it will go completely white. You'd be left with stubble. And you can't change the height of the grass in the middle of a match, it would be unfair to the teams.

"Once you've set the grass length, the umpire checks it and you keep it that way. Everybody must bat under the same conditions."

But on the third day the outfield seemed to have quickened up and several Cricinfo readers attending the match contacted us to say that they had watched mowers take "large amounts" of grass off ahead of the resumption of play. The playing conditions clearly state that blades on mowers must remain at the same setting as used at the start, so if they were lowered then questions need to be asked.

Muzzell's comments suggest that the simple reason is that the outfield was not properly mown and tended to in recent months, and that by the time he arrived it was too late. That raises serious questions about the overall skills of those responsible for the ground.

Either way, once more Newlands, one of the most beautiful of the world's major grounds, has made the headlines for the wrong reasons.