Cricket: Signs aren't good but NZ hope pitch will offer seamers hope

By David Leggat

Trent Boult during day two of the first test match between South Africa and New Zealand.
Trent Boult during day two of the first test match between South Africa and New Zealand.

The indications aren't promising but New Zealand have their fingers crossed they will get a pitch with some help for the seamers when the second, deciding test against South Africa starting at Centurion, near Pretoria, tonight (NZT).

The first test ended in a muddied outfield farce at Durban, leaving it all to play for at Centurion.

Usually it has good pace and bounce, and New Zealand fast bowler Trent Boult said there had been good signs in the practice pitches. But he has heard a different word about the strip in the middle.

"I don't know if low and slow is music to my ears," the left arm swing man said, the early-season conditions not as much to the quicks liking as later in the summer.

He hadn't seen a cloud in the time the team has been based 35km down the road at Johannesburg which leads him to think they might not get as much help in the air as they did in bowling South Africa out for 263 in Durban at sea level.

New Zealand will work on small tinkerings to the attack strategy. They were taken too often to the boundary in Durban, notably by the classy Hashim Amla, and there may be need to play more of a patience game if conditions are not as conducive to seam bowling as they were in the abbreviated first test.

"Our natural length is to try and pitch the ball up and swing it. That's how we've got most of our success in recent times.

"The challenge is going to be totally different here and we may have to look to subtly change our plans and try to put pressure on these guys."

Boult, with his pace now up close to the 140km/h range after being off the boil over the last year, is ranked ninth among test bowlers, one spot higher than fellow leftie Neil Wagner who makes his first appearance in the top 10, with Tim Southee out to No15.

Sitting at No3 is South African kingpin Dale Steyn, whom Boult freely admitted was one of his heroes growing up, and who demonstrated at Durban that he remains as effective as ever, even after a long injury layoff and at 33 years old. Steyn is a key reason why New Zealand may want to be careful what they wish for out of the pitch. "Any chance I get to play against him is very exciting. I could almost sit there and watch every ball he bowls. He's a serious bowler."

Then again, Boult and Southee aren't without their fans in the opposition. Tenda Bavuma, who battled almost 2-hours at Durban, had high praise and expects them to be a handful at Centurion.

"You can see why Tim Southee and Trent Boult are up there in the bowling rankings. Their skill is impeccable. They keep asking the right questions," Bavuma said. "If they were to get on to a wicket that assisted them more, they would be quite a force."

This test is now a one-off, with a prospect of a first series win in South Africa, if one and a bit tests can be so called.

"It's the pinnacle of the game. It's my passion, the red ball is where I initially made my mark and it's a little bit frustrating only having a one-off game. Ideally, you want to be playing against the best players as much as you can. If we can walk out in a couple of days and put together the things we want to we'll be very happy."

Both teams are expected to be unchanged.

The nature of modern touring is there's precious little room for players to play themselves into a test team on the road.

• Pakistan intend playing their first day-night test, against the West Indies in Dubai from October 13. It will be just the second test using pink balls, after the Australia-New Zealand test in Adelaide late last year.

Pakistan are also scheduled to play Australia in Brisbane in a day-night test in December.

- NZ Herald

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