Just below the Cow Corner bar, positioned perfectly for T20 cricket’s famous leg-side slog, the lawnmower is trimming the grass bank. A couple of groundsmen are squatted a few metres inside the boundary fence pulling out the weeds. The pitch, too, is getting a shave. Centurion is getting ready for the second Test, and it isn’t quite following the current trend by wearing green.
From a distance, the second tier of the stadium to be specific, in the dark green very grassy circle hemmed by layers of white bucket seats, the 22 yards stand out for their very earthy shade of brown. Colours can be deceptive, and brown isn’t the colour code for runs. At some grounds it also means wickets, broken ribs and fractured fingers. Like Newlands is famous for its ‘seam movement’, at Centurion, they do ‘bounce’ like no one.
The ground staff is busy, they have a job at hand. The three-day first Test, despite the home team’s famous win, has put pressure on them. Tegobo is working next to the Test pitch, he has his hand deep inside a tap hole. “We don’t want a three-day Test again,” he says.
The ground staff concedes that the pitch is historically known more for bounce, less for lateral movement. “But it will be 50-50, a bit of bounce and a bit of seam movement,” he says. Later in the match, the pitch can have inconsistent bounce with cracks expected to appear. Newlands was far more consistent when it came to jump off the pitch.
While Newlands suited home boy Vernon Philander, Centurion’s bounce will be to the liking of local pacer Morne Morkel. While playing for the Titans — the star-studded champion side that also has AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis — the 6’ 5” Morkel has been more than a handful for batsmen on South Africa’s domestic circuit.
For the Indians, meanwhile, the Cape Town-to-Centurion switch will be like going from a frying pan to the fire. India’s weakness against the short ball is well documented, with Shikhar Dhawan falling twice to the rising ball at Newlands and skipper Virat Kohli getting beaten by Morkel’s bounce in the first innings. Though, there is also a school of thought that Indians are more comfortable on pitches with bounce than on those which also have consistent seam movement.
Pressure is another factor that India will have to deal with at a venue that resembles an oval amphitheatre. Centurion is a deep bowl with sliding grass banks and a long climb down for the batsmen from the dressing room. With pacers making the ball climb and the crowd staring down, it can be intimidating. A batsman can feel like an on-the-edge motorcyclist in the well of death with excited faces staring down from the brim.