What went wrong with the outfield?

Commercial and financial considerations were uppermost amongst those with vested interests as two entire days were washed out at Kingsmead, but those anxieties were on an entirely different scale to those of the families who had invested so much emotional time and energy into watching and supporting the Proteas.

The worst moment, perhaps, came when both Black Caps and Proteas players were seen shopping and buying movie tickets at Umhlanga’s Gateway Shopping Centre at midday on Sunday, two hours before the frustration of the families at the ground was ended.

Imagine the disillusionment of the kids at the ground. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and there is absolutely no sign of movement or endeavour to get the ground ready for play. It all happened much earlier, of course. The SuperSopper worked itself to a standstill, literally. By the end, it was squidging up mud rather than water and quit, in protest.

The umpires, Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth, played over 30 combined years of first-class cricket, so they understand better than most the needs and requirements of the viewing public. For all the ire and disdain they receive, they remain admirably steadfast. They were available to explain the reality to television audiences throughout the two days, although that didn’t help those in the ground.

So the parents sat in the stands while the kids played ball on the grass banks. The sun shone but there was nothing, in sight, happening at the ground.

The outfield was scarified in late June to prepare it for the Test match. It was a mighty job involving the removal of over 40 tonnes of ‘old’ grass and soil. It needed to start at least a month earlier, but Comrades delayed the process until June 9th. For logistical reasons, CSA couldn’t get their team to the stadium until June 23. Those two weeks were critical in getting the outfield ready.

But even if the grass had enjoyed the final, critical 14 days of growth, the 65mils of rain on Saturday night would still have adversely affected the prospects of play. Perhaps just a little less.

The hardest question is: Why couldn’t the entire ground be covered, even just for a couple of nights, with so much rain clearly forecast? It the ground had been covered, we might have lost half a day’s play, not two and a half.

Responsibility is a complex issue between the host union and Cricket South Africa. But CSA take ownership of the ground for ten days before and after the Test, so it seems obvious that they should stipulate the criteria required.

Bitching and moaning won’t help now. Lessons need to be learned. As former Sri Lankan great batsman and captain Mahela Jayawardena said: “That’s why we cover the entire ground in Sri Lanka when there’s rain in prospect.”


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