Green top awaits Indian batsmen

Zaheer Khan during a practice session. AP

SuperSport Park curator Hilbert Smith has received specific instructions to leave a track with reasonable grass on it, to totally cut out any possibility of turn, and to provide enough pace, bounce and lateral movement for Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and most likely Lonwabo Tsotsobe to feed off.

At first glance, Smith has followed the instructions to the ‘tee’. The strip wears a distinct green look, and his job of producing a pitch with moisture has been helped along by the overcast conditions and the odd spell of rain that have prevented the surface from baking.

Steyn and Morkel, who both will be playing at their home grounds, have come to form a potent new-ball combine, one of the reasons why touring sides have found it hard to score heavily or bat for long periods.

“Anywhere in world, with overcast conditions, and rain around, it does make sense to bowl first,” Morkel told newsmen on Tuesday afternoon, after an extended training session. “It’s nice to be back home playing in front of my home crowd. For Dale as well – he played for the Nashua Titans and he has been playing all his cricket here, so it’s going to be special to bowl with him here on our home ground.”

Talking up the surface, the lanky paceman who loves to hit the deck and seam the ball around went on, “This pitch has changed a little bit, there is more life in the wicket. The pace and bounce is very good on the first 2-3 days and when the sun comes out and bakes the deck, it becomes a very good wicket. It is going to be interesting to see, come 10 O’clock on Thursday.”

Morkel said the hosts could take heart from the averages in South Africa of India’s top order, which are far less than their career averages. “That’s one theory we have been looking at. It’s a positive thing. We know if we strike early with the new ball and get the middle order in as quick as possible, we have the chance to bowl them out quite cheaply.”

At the same time, Morkel wasn’t unaware of the challenges the Indian opening combine of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir will offer. “Gautam and Sehwag up front, they are very dangerous. Not long ago, Gautam was number one in the world and we all know how destructive Virender can be up against the new ball,” he offered. “It’s a contest we are looking forward to, especially now we are on South African wickets where we know you don’t have only five overs with the new ball. In these conditions, the ball tends to bounce a little bit longer.  We respect them quite a lot but we have got our stuff worked out for them.”

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