Kingsmead in control as big match looms
Heinrich Strydom’s desk was down there somewhere on Wednesday‚ under the lever arch files and the A4 pages and whatever else complicates an administrator’s life the day before a match at their ground.
Not just any match — the first Test between South Africa and Australia.
And not just that — it will be the first Test that Strydom will preside over in his career as an administrator.
It’s also the first Test Kingsmead will host since August 2016‚ when not a ball was bowled on the last three days because of an outfield that had been recently relaid at Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) insistence and was thus wholly unprepared to come unscathed through the unseasonal storm that deluged Durban on the night after the second day.
Spectators wearing hats and sunblock to ward off the more dangerous aspects of the perfect cricket weather were treated to umpteen sightings of Ian Gould trodding various parts of the outfield and shaking his head disapprovingly‚ and the other umpires nodding in seemingly silent acquiescence.
Strydom was among those spectators: “I was here for a job interview during that Test.”
The outfield was rated “poor” by the International Cricket Council‚ but Strydom made a better impression — in May last year he became chief executive of the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union.
Which brings us to Wednesday‚ when Kingsmead baked in 28-degree heat and sweated in 65% humidity.
The outfield was an uninterrupted swathe of closely cropped grass of the greenest green. In a word‚ perfect.
What of the bit in the middle‚ especially in light of the controversial surfaces South Africa resorted to in their series against India last month?
“The pitch that we’ll play on‚ some of the guys have said that it may be slowish‚” Strydom said.
“But my groundsman [Wilson Ngobese] says he’s pretty happy with what they’ve achieved.”
Strydom said there hadn’t been interference from beyond Kingsmead in the pitch’s preparation‚ although he was unsure if “maybe they spoke directly to my groundsman”.
Either way‚ it shouldn’t matter.
“South Africa and Australia have very similar teams with one world class spinner and a world class seam attack‚ and the same goes on the batting front‚” Strydom said‚ and he should know having played first-class cricket for North West.
“Whatever pitch you get I don’t think it will favour one side more than the other.”
That said‚ by the look of it on Wednesday it is a pitch of contrasts in that there was significantly more grass near the Old Fort Road end than at the Umgeni River end.
Proteas captain Faf du Plessis is unlikely to complain if the pitch is on the slower side.
Thursday’s game will be his first since he broke his right index finger during the first one-day international against India at the selfsame Kingsmead four weeks ago.
He wore a dressing on the finger to his press conference on Wednesday and kept the dodgy digit well clear of contact when he shook hands.
Strydom’s greeting was less complicated and accompanied by an easy smile and‚ “Sorry for the way my office looks at the moment.”
Not that an apology was required. His desk was laden‚ but the neatly straight lines in which everything on it had been arranged spoke of careful planning and control.
It’s a big match‚ but it’s just another match.