David Leggat on sport
David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Top brass rub hands of Durban washout

NZ coach Mike Hesson insists both teams wanted to play. Photo / Mark Mitchell
NZ coach Mike Hesson insists both teams wanted to play. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Call it a massive group run for cover; no one has been prepared to offer explanations for the farce which passed for New Zealand's opening cricket test against South Africa at Kingsmead, Durban.

There was no play after late morning on the second day - at which point New Zealand, at 15 for two, were battling in response to South Africa's 263.

Rain came, which was unexpected at this time of year, the ground was woefully underprepared, areas deep in the outfield were sodden.

No one, from match referee Andy Pycroft to umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth, to the International Cricket Council, to Cricket South Africa, was prepared to offer a coherent explanation for why two days of bright sunshine were allowed to pass without, not only any resumption, but also without any visible signs of repair work being done to the outfield.

As always, theories abound as to why events unfolded as they did.

One has it that the South Africans were unhappy at having to play test cricket at home at this time of year. It is the earliest a home test has been scheduled in South Africa, by several weeks. The earliest previous test in Durban was in November.

However, South African captain Faf du Plessis and New Zealand coach Mike Hesson insisted both teams wanted to play.

South Africa, with New Zealand on the ropes in their response and with veteran seamers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander putting them through hoops, would surely have been keen to get back out.

Both team spokesmen put the onus on the umpires.

"We wanted to play but the general feeling was that the ground was unsafe," du Plessis said.

"There were quite a few areas that were a bit muddy and a bit loose on the foot. They were very worried that if you were to sprint or make sudden movements on it, you could get badly injured."

He added the umpires made their point "pretty clearly" to the teams, that safety was paramount.

Hesson said New Zealand had reservations about the readiness of the ground "from the time we arrived, we knew the outfield was in a poor state and obviously didn't cope with the rain".

The outfield had been relaid a few weeks ago, leaving insufficient time for it to bed in. So add in unseasonal rain and this was a disaster perched around the corner from the time of the toss last Friday night. Possible solutions, moving the boundary in 10m or using sawdust or a similar drying agent, were not allowed as the laws of the game don't permit changing field dimensions once the match has started.

Kingsmead does not own full ground covers and none were borrowed from local clubs.

All in all, a shambles.

Hesson tried to put a bright spin on things. There's still a maiden test series win in South Africa on the table.

The second and final test starts in Centurion on Saturday night (NZT).

There's a salutary lesson for CSA out of this: if you want tests being played in winter they have to be on the high ground, Johannesburg or Centurion, not down on the coast.

- NZ Herald

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