Centurion: South Africa and New Zealand go into a one-match shootout for series honours when they meet in the second and final Test starting at SuperSport Park in Centurion Saturday.
The Proteas can nudge up one place to sixth in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test rankings if they win, while the Black Caps will remain fifth irrespective of the result.
But the reputation of Test cricket is at much at stake as rankings points after a farcical first Test in Durban where less than 100 overs of cricket were played before a wet, soft outfield prevented any play on the last three days.
There was even less cricket in a Test match between the West Indies and India in Port of Spain, also because of outfield conditions.
It is the first time Test cricket has been played in South Africa in August, almost two months before the usual start of the season.
Preparing grounds for winter conditions has been a challenge – which Durban failed to meet after re-seeding the outfield only two months before the match.
Following reports from the match referees, the outfields in Durban and Port of Spain were condemned as “poor” by the ICC.
Centurion groundsman Rudolph du Preez had the advantage of planting winter grass much earlier than Durban, with work starting in April, almost immediately after the 2015-16 season.
He said it was necessary to plant winter grass because fielders struggled on dry, dormant summer grass when the same two countries met in a one-day international in August last year.
“The players are used to sliding in to stop the ball, which on dormant turf you cannot do. That was the major consideration when switching to winter turf.”
With virtually no rain falling on the South African Highveld during winter – and no rain predicted during the Test – Du Preez is confident that conditions will be suitable for Test cricket.
He said more time had been necessary to prepare the pitch because cool conditions meant it took longer to dry out after watering.
Du Preez said he did not expect uneven bounce to be as much of a factor as it has been in the later stages of matches in recent seasons.
“It might not deteriorate as we are used to. It might be a little bit slower, it might be holding back a bit more,” he said.
Centurion has been a fortress for South Africa in Test cricket, with the home side having won 16 of the 21 Tests at the ground.
Their only two losses were against England in a contrived result in 1999-2000, engineered by the late Hansie Cronje before he was banned from cricket because of his association with bookmakers, and against Australia in 2013-14.
The hosts go into the match buoyed by the form shown by opening bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, both returning from injury, although they only bowled six overs each before rain intervened on the second day in Durban.
South Africa’s batting is a concern, however, with AB de Villiers missing because of injury and several players falling to loose shots in Durban.
New Zealand have an advantage in terms of match practice after playing and winning two Tests in Zimbabwe before coming to South Africa.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wkt), Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Dane Piedt
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wkt), Mitchell Santner, Doug Bracewell, Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Trent Boult
Umpires: Ian Gould (ENG), Paul Reiffel (AUS)
TV umpire: Richard Illingworth (ENG).
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)