The build-up to the much-anticipated Test series between South Africa and India has been dominated by talk of how the pitches will play, with most predicting that the hosts will prepare hard, bouncy surfaces.
The Proteas toured India in 2015 and went on to lose that four-match Test series three-nil on surfaces that were slow and offered little to no bounce.
With revenge on their minds, and all their frontline pace bowlers in the squad, the home team would like nothing more than to get pitches that seam and bounce to hurry up the India batsman.
With all the talk about the surfaces and how the pitches will play, the groundsmen around South Africa will certainly be under pressure.
Newlands in Cape Town is the scene of the first Test, starting on Friday, and head curator Evan Flint is hopeful that he can produce a pitch that the home side will take a liking to.
When asked if he had got specific ‘instructions’ on what kind of pitch he needed to prepare, Flint said the Proteas usually liked surfaces with pace and bounce, no matter who they are facing.
Flint told Cricket365 at Newlands on Monday: “We are not looking to drastically change anything from what we normally do.
“We’ve tried to tweak a few things here and there but generally the first session at Newlands as a batsman you have to be a bit careful but once you get through that, you cash in in that afternoon session.
“Hopefully there is enough pace in the wicket so the batsmen can still play some shots but you still need to play well.
“I think everybody is aware of the kind of the surfaces that South Africa want to play on, that is regardless of who they are playing against.
“The aim is still to produce a good wicket, we don’t want the wicket to be poor, so we want to give everybody – batsman and bowlers – a chance in the game.
“But we all know South Africa’s strength is going to be the seam bowlers, it has been like that since forever.”
Cape Town is currently experiencing one of it’s most severe droughts with residents asked not to use more than 87 litres of water each per day.
Flint admitted that the water shortage in the city could have an impact on the surface as preparations continue before the first ball is bowled on Friday.
Luckily for Flint and his ground staff, Newlands has borehole water that they are using to keep the pitch fresh ahead of the first Test, although it has rained a bit over the last two days.
Flint added: “We have borehole water. The City can’t put a restriction on borehole water but they’ve asked people to be aware of it. We have stuck to the City’s guidelines on the outfield, which is watering it twice a week.
“The pitch is different. It requires less water but more often so we haven’t been able to alter anything on the square but luckily we had some rain over the last few days.
“We will do one more application of water before the game starts on Friday. If you are in the middle of a drought though it does have an effect on our preparations. The atmosphere is a bit drier, there is nothing like natural rain.”
With so much of the spotlight on the playing area, the groundsmen will be just as much part of the action as the players and Flint certainly feels it.
When asked if he feels any pressure ahead of a big game, he said: “Yeah, definitely! You feel pressure for all matches – amateur cricket, first-class cricket – you still hope you have done the right thing and you want to see how it plays.
“Obviously for a Test match it all just goes to the next level because of all the media interest and that kind of thing but it is very nerve-wracking.
“I wake up at 4:30 in the morning and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘I hope I’ve done the right thing’.
“You want it to go how you planned but sometimes it doesn’t happen and it’s very disappointing – and I am my own worst critic.”
By Nasri Alexander