Newlands: The all-round deck
Head groundsman: Evan Flint
Ends: Wynberg End, Kelvin Grove End
Home Team: Cape Cobras
Test History: 52 Tests; 22 home wins; 20 away wins; 10 draws
Last 10 Tests: 7 home wins; 1 away win; 2 draws
Last 10 Tosses: 5 batted first (4 losses, 1 win); 5 bowled first (3 wins, 2 draws)
It could be the location, or perhaps the backdrop of Table Mountain. Maybe it’s the oak trees or the brewery next door, but Newlands has that something special.
It might also just be that Cape Town and in particular the New Year’s Test delivers the most reliable and excitable crowds in South Africa.
Added to the spectator-friendly environment is the sporting nature of the pitch, which has seen just five drawn Tests in 28 matches since readmission. Newlands has also been something of a fortress for South Africa in that time – the only side to beat them here since 1993 is Australia, although they have done it four times.
The ground hosted its first Test match in March 1889, when England defeated South Africa by an innings and 202 runs. References to ‘The New Lands’ date back to early colonial maps in 1656 and 1661, when the Dutch settlement located at today’s Cape Town city centre literally spread out into new lands, where the current suburb of Newlands is located.
While redevelopment in the 90s saw stands replace some of the grass embankments as the stadium became a 25,000-seater, fans still pack the grassy eastern side of the ground to enjoy the shade of the oaks and a splendid view of Table Mountain behind the cricket action.
Last Time Out
The most recent match here was in January 2015, the New Year's Test against the West Indies. The Proteas won the match by eight wickets, before lunch on day five, after being asked to bowl first.
The Windies were all out for 329 in their first innings, with Dale Steyn taking four wickets, despite three batsmen reaching the 50s. None were able to push on though, as Simon Harmer took three wickets with his spin.
A century from AB de Villiers, and scores of 60-odd from Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla, saw the hosts record 421 all out, so handing the Windies a deficit of nearly 100 runs.
Harmer was again on song for the Proteas, taking four more wickets, while Steyn took three for himself. The Windies were all out for 215, leaving South Africa needing just 124 to win. They reached that inside 38 overs.
Happy Hunting Ground
Only four batsmen have more than 1000 runs in Newlands, two of which are AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla. They are the highest current run-getters here, both averaging around 44 at the ground.
Amla has two tons here, while ABdV has three. Faf du Plessis has played only four Tests here, with two fifties. All three will hope for those stats to prove true this time as well.
As for the bowlers, Dale Steyn is by far the leading wicket taker here, with 65 scalps, but he's injured, as is Vernon Philander, who has 31 wickets in six Tests. Morne Morkel is the realistic leader for this game, but he averages a touch over 30.
As for England, they last played here in 2010 and the game was drawn. Of that side, only Cook, Anderson, and Broad remain. Cook scored a pair of half tons then, while Anderson took eight wickets.
Groundsman Evan Flint this week: "I'm preparing it for the Test to last five days, but the Cobras batsmen says there is always something in the wicket in the morning session.
"The South Easter will be a factor, as well as the heat. I will always select a spinner if I was the captain, at this ground. The length is a factor at Newlands, as you get reward when you pitch it further up."
Rain in summer is not a problem for Cape Town normally, and the forecast reflects that. All five days are set to be hot to the point of sweltering, and sunny all day. Pack the sunblock if you're going to sit on the grass banks!
Cape Town is one of those rare places that offers a bit of everything at Newlands. Pace and swing early on, runs for batsmen if they concentrate as the ball comes onto the bat, and also a bit of help for the spinners later on.
This will not be a case of the losing team being able to moan about the deck, and it's a result wicket to boot. It should be an entertaining few days, for sure.
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