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NZ-SA Test hinges on state of pitch

A pitch mauled by unusually heavy rains is shaping up as a dominant factor in the first cricket Test between New Zealand and South Africa starting on Wednesday.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2004 10:59 IST

A pitch mauled by unusually heavy rains is shaping up as a dominant factor in the first cricket Test between New Zealand and South Africa starting on Wednesday.

The two sides are expected to take a close look at the wicket block where the grass growth is badly affected by wet weather in the past six weeks.

It raised the prospect of an unpredictable spinner-friendly surface, a situation New Zealand coach John Bracewell appeared to have few problems with, having named Paul Wiseman as his second spinner alongside Daniel Vettori.

Vettori's form in the one-day series, which New Zealand won 5-1, marks him as a key man for New Zealand, and Wiseman appeared to have a good chance of joining him in the 11.

South Africa coach Eric Simons however said he doubted his top six batsmen might be vulnerable against the turning ball.

"A lot is always made of us battling against spin, but we're one of few sides who have won on the subcontinent," Simons said. "There's nothing there that frightens us too much."

In 2000 under Hansie Cronje, South Africa won 2-0 in India and a year later drew 1-1 in Sri Lanka.

However, South Africa lost the test series 0-1 in Pakistan last year.

New Zealand will take comfort in the failure of Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis to dominate in the one-day series in which they both averaged 24.

Gibbs again missed out in Napier in a three day Central Districts provincial match at the weekend with scores of 18 and 26 while batting anchor Gary Kirsten also had two misses -- four and 26.

The star of Napier was the impressive Neil McKenzie, the test No 6, who never looked like getting out in his polished knocks of 100 not out and 49 not out.

"We all know he can score runs but he played with that added confidence," Simons said.

The bowling though has been South Africa's headache and while test aspirants Andre Nel and David Terbrugge bowled a testing line and length, the focus was on the spinners.

Left-armers Paul Adams and Nicky Boje were given an extended run despite an unsuitable pitch for spin bowling, and they took some punishment from Central's batsmen.

"Paul's the test incumbent and Nicky has to dislodge him, but it would be very unfair to judge them on this wicket," Simons said.

Turf manager Karl Johnson said Monday the pitch was ready for the match.

"I'm reasonably happy where we're at. It has been a tough ask and it's a big call to do it, but I wouldn't have done it if I wasn't confident," Johnson said.

First Published: Mar 09, 2004 10:59 IST