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Green Bloemfontein track promises pace and bounce

A few days before the Test, the track was nearly indistinguishable from the outfield, and with persistent rain keeping it under covers, the pitch may prove to be tricky for batsmen on both sides

A view of the pitch at the Mangaung Oval a few days before the second Test, Bloemfontein, October 4, 2017

A photo of the Mangaung Oval pitch on Monday, after some of the grass was shaved off  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The pace and bounce South Africa wanted but didn't get in Potchefstroom is likely to be around in Bloemfontein for the second Test against Bangladesh, if visual evidence is anything to go by. Photographs taken on Sunday showed a strip so green it almost could not be distinguished from the outfield. By Monday some of the grass had been shaved off, as shown in the accompanying picture, and since then, persistent rain has kept the pitch under covers. More showers are forecast for Thursday, which means the track may not see much sunlight before the first ball is bowled on Friday, and it could be tricky for batsmen on both sides.
For Duanne Olivier, who plays his first-class cricket in Bloemfontein for Knights, the news cannot be better. "I saw a few pictures. I think on day one it will be a bit slow but then there'll be some bounce and it will quicken up towards day three and four," the fast bowler said. If that is the case, Manguang Oval will depart heavily from its norm of flat and run-laden tracks.
Just two weeks ago, in the first-class season opener, the Knights and Cobras played out a high-scoring draw at the venue, albeit on a different pitch to the one that will be used for the Test. After Cobras were bowled out for 159, 1190 runs were scored in two innings, including seven centuries, for the loss of 10 wickets.
Cobras' coach Ashwell Prince said the track was so flat both teams felt they could "bat for another week", and that was not a good thing. He criticised the surface as "definitely not good for South African cricket" because the "bat dominated" and he pointed out that it did not even break up for the spinners to come into the game.
Olivier played in that match and bowled 44 overs, 31 of them in the second innings when he went wicketless. Though that experience was forgettable, he has enjoyed more successful outings at the ground in the past, and was the leading wicket-taker in first-class cricket last season, when Knights won the title.
"Two weeks ago, the wicket was quite flat and there wasn't much assistance but it will be different this time," he said. "Previously, too, the wickets were a bit slow up front and Marchant (de Lange) and I bowled really well together. It's about being aggressive and being patient. At times Marchant was the aggressor and other times we changed roles with me being more aggressive."
Given that the combination of Olivier and de Lange worked so well for Knights, the South Africa Test team may want to try something similar for the second match. However, the bowler closest to de Lange in physique and style is Morne Morkel, who has been ruled out with injury. Instead, it will up to a young crop - Olivier, who is not sure whether he will be given the new ball, Kagiso Rabada and two of Andile Phehlukwayo, Wayne Parnell or Dane Paterson - to step up.
"Of course, Morne is a massive loss. He's been bowling really well but it gives an opportunity to other guys to stand up and make a name for themselves," Olivier said. "KG [Rabada] will be leading the attack now and I can learn a lot from him. I also learn a lot from the senior players so I really don't feel there's added pressure on me or the rest of the guys."
But there is some pressure on Olivier. After four Tests, his returns - 13 wickets at an average of 24.15 with an economy rate of 4.02 - are acceptable without being outstanding. In England, his inconsistency became an issue as he struggled to maintain lines and lengths for long enough to create or sustain pressure. There were glimpses of the same in Potchefstroom, where Olivier's early spell was expensive and over-reliant on the short-ball. He admitted he wants to correct that by focusing on holding an end for a little longer.
"I felt like I didn't start well (in Potchefstroom). Maybe it's because I try to put too much pressure on myself. But later on I settle and became more aggressive," he said. "You want to contain and take wickets at the same time but you need to find the balance."
Bloemfontein may just be the place to start finding that balance.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent