Among the several thousand people who turned up to watch an absorbing opening Test between South Africa and India at Newlands in Cape Town was one interested spectator who took a two-hour flight. Bryan Bloy, the curator of SuperSport Park in Centurion, wanted to get a first-hand view and feel of how Evan Flint, the Newlands curator, went about preparing his ground for a Test, and thus made the trip from Highveld to the Western Cape.
“I made contact with Evan Flint. The two franchises (Titans and Cape Cobras) spoke to one another and made the arrangements and off I went,” Bloy told Wisden India on Thursday (January 11). “It was my decision to go, I just wanted to experience Newlands. It’s a different climate. Their rainfall is winter rainfall, so for that match to get rain this time of the year is particularly unusual. But yes, different variety of grass on the wicket, which is something I’m not accustomed to. I just wanted to go down there and see Evan’s operation. I was very impressed, he runs a tight ship there.”
But while Flint had to work that much harder to provide the sort of pitch that Faf du Plessis has expressly asked for through the series – plenty of pace, movement and bounce – Bloy has the advantage of surfaces in this region being naturally conducive to pace and bounce.
“The trait of the Highveld is that the pitches are normally a little quicker and normally have a bit more bounce,” said Bloy. “We will prepare a pitch to our strength at SuperSport Park, because conditions favour that sort of pitch. It makes sense for us to go with what suits us best. No major seam movement, possibly a little bit in the morning on day one it will nibble around. But it won’t turn sideways or anything like that.”
Bloy, though, is aware of the fact that he also needs to prepare a track where the game could go the full five days. “I don’t imagine there will be anything extra,” he said. “I mean, it’s got to go five days. You can’t risk doing anything that could jeopardise the longevity, or length of the match. So I expect the pitch to be a little bit slower to start, and then quicken up on day two and day three. The forecast is for quite warm weather, so I’m expecting the pitch to deteriorate on day four and day five.
“Normally we don’t take a lot of turn, but as the pitch deteriorates, the guys will get turn. I’m sure they’ll get turn throughout the match, they’re just not going to get big turn. In one-day and T20 cricket, teams bowl spinners after all. So we do take some turn.”
Bloy wasn’t always a cricket person, and has worked on golf courses and football fields, but he has been in the “turf industry”, as he puts it, for the past 15 years, and so knows his outfield, grass and soil.
From a distance, the pitch at SuperSport Park sports some brown, but if the Indians think that is a reminder from home, they’ll be mistaken. “No, it’s certainly not an Indian pitch. Not at all,” emphasised Bloy. “The colour won’t affect any of the bounce.”
If the Indian and South African nets were anything to go by, Bloy was not overstating the bouncy bit. Pacers from both sides had batsmen in trouble often enough. And if any of the batsmen were hoping that with a day and a half still to go for the match, something could be done to ease the pitch a bit, Bloy had some news to share.
“I don’t know how to make a pitch slower, I’ve never really tried to prepare a pitch to be slow! In the Highveld we stick to our strengths, which are pace and bounce. My goal really is to have a good wicket, it’s going to have good pace and good bounce. Nothing out of the ordinary, I’m not going to say it’s going to do something super special. It’s going to be a good wicket with pace and bounce, which is the norm in the Highveld.”
It’s up to the Indians and South Africans now, to deal with the norm.