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The Christchurch Press South Africa v New Zealand (1st Test)
Geoff Longley - 27 February - 3 March 1999

Day 2: Cullinan profits from NZ bungle

South African captain Hansie Cronje is considering inflicting more punishment on the hapless New Zealand cricketers by batting on into today's third day of the first BNZ test.

Already first-time New Zealand test cricket captain Dion Nash and his team must be rueing his debatable decision to send the Proteas in on Eden Park's grassless and glued pitch.

The decision, vehemently defended by coach Steve Rixon, backfired in the most explosive manner as South Africa indulged in a run feast. It was 562 for five from 186 overs by stumps last night.

South African Daryll Cullinan has benefited most - he is 246 not out.

Following all the speculation about the problem pitch leading into the game, a combination of the orthodox and unorthodox groundkeeping methods produced one of the most docile decks imaginable, reminiscent of lifeless Eden Park wickets of old.

Among the unusual tactics was the addition of some glue to help bind the surface.

Yet, when the coin flipped Nash's way two days ago, no doubt with the Black Caps' management in his ear, it was decided batting was the best option.

With the barren strip devoid of grass, after the fungal algae killed it off, there was always going to be minimal assistance to the seam bowlers.

With the wicket being of dubious lasting quality, most, including Cronje, felt batting first the better option.

After a day's sun yesterday, the South Africans believe it is beginning to show signs of wear and do not want to bat again, hence Cronje's temptation to bat on for another hour or so. Had the Black Caps been in any doubt how a glued wicket could play, a quick call to former Lancaster Park groundsman Russell Wylie would have revealed that he sometimes used PVA to hold the wicket together.

On one occasion Canterbury made its record-breaking 777 batting first in the Shell Trophy final two seasons ago.

Glue was also used when Pakistan amassed the record score of 616 for five declared at Eden Park 10 seasons ago.

But the Black Caps' management, encouraged by the humid, cloudy conditions and the prospect of an on-again, off-again first day, gambled heavily - and lost.

The early swing for fast bowler Simon Doull soon disappeared, the pitch's gentle pace ensured anything short usually begged 'hit me'; and anything full went straight for the drive.

Rixon defended the move saying it was the Black Caps' best attacking option.

He suggested the wind had sprung up, negating the swing but really the Black Caps bungled an opportunity to bat first against a South African attack which would have had its pace bowling teeth blunted by the slow-paced pitch.

It could have given the Kiwi batsmen an opportunity to ease into the series against Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, and Jacques Kallis.

However, Rixon believes that with the pitch playing so well, New Zealand would have to bat badly to lose and he did not believe South Africa's one spinner, Paul Adams, posed a major threat.

The New Zealanders were left in a holding pattern waiting, and largely hoping, the South Africans would make a mistake.

They only came infrequently, just one per session yesterday.

Cullinan compiled his first double century, Gary Kirsten his ninth 100 and there were record third and fifth-wicket stands for South Africa against New Zealand between Cullinan and Kirsten (183) and Cullinan and Jonty Rhodes (141). One of the few New Zealand bowlers to keep South Africa below its three-runs-an-over-rate was Chris Harris, whose 43 tidy overs yielded 85 runs and he took the wickets of Rhodes and Cronje after miscued shots.

New Zealand will also be unable to bat opener Matthew Bell in his specialist position after he left the field with a hamstring injury on Saturday. He also had a stomach complaint.

As they are classified as internal injuries, he cannot bat until New Zealand has lost five wickets.

Roger Twose will likely partner Matthew Horne when New Zealand gets its long-awaited turn at the crease.

Day 3: Coaches hit out at flat pitches

Cricket will struggle to compete for the entertainment dollar while it produces no-result test wickets like that at Eden Park, says South African cricket coach Bob Woolmer.

Woolmer was speaking after day three of the first BNZ test yesterday which has so far produced 826 runs and just seven wickets, fewer than one a session. New Zealand, replying to South Africa's massive 621 for five, had made a similarly strong start, reaching 205 for two by stumps.

Woolmer, while aware there had been problems with the pitch preparation at the ground, which has led to the benign strip, made general comments about such wickets.

``Cricket is competing with other sports that get results, like the Super 12, and I think we need pitches that are more result friendly.''

Woolmer noted the test between India and Sri Lanka, where both teams have just made two huge first innings totals, with no prospect of an outright win.

Woolmer said the Eden Park pitch looks like it could go eight days, let alone the scheduled five.

New Zealand coach Steve Rixon was of a similar mind when saying his only complaint was that it was a not a result wicket.

``You play on different surfaces all around the world but results at test match level are needed to keep the game alive for people.''

The contest on this occasion has been lop-sided in favour of the batsmen, who have enjoyed their stay on the featherbed, while the bowlers from both teams have toiled manfully for minimal reward.

Woolmer said South Africa batted on an extra hour yesterday, not specifically to allow Daryll Cullinan to break South Africa's test scoring record - which he achieved when posting a masterly unbeaten 275 - but because of the nature of the pitch. ``On this sort of wicket we felt we needed to have a follow-on figure above 400 to put some pressure on the New Zealand batsmen.''

Generally the Black Caps coped admirably as the Proteas found the same wicket-taking problems. Allan Donald was the most demanding and, with his pace and persistent line around off stump, drew edges from Roger Twose and Nathan Astle, whose lack of foot movement was noticeable.

But Matthew Horne looked assured and is poised to score his third test century being unbeaten overnight on 92 from five hours at the crease, having faced 219 balls with 13 fours.

Day 4: Defiant Harris shows way

New Zealand's batsmen must summon the concentration powers of Chris Harris as they seek to save the first test against South Africa at Eden Park today.

Harris, returning to the test arena, showed what could be achieved on the strip, where life is all but extinct, by making an unbeaten 68 when batting almost all day yesterday.

The Black Caps begin the final day 265 runs in arrears, having been forced to follow on when their first innings expired at 352, just before stumps.

Harris was a batting beacon in his highly effective 236-ball knock and he sees no reason why the Black Caps cannot draw the game.

``The wicket is holding together pretty well, better than most of us expected.''

Harris said South Africa's spin bowler Paul Adams might pose increasing problems with his ability to turn the ball, but he felt the danger was less for right-handers, who did not have to play shots if Adams pitched in footmarks outside the leg stump.

``With their quicker bowlers I think the key is to play straight in the vee.''

Harris said each time he began to emerge from his non stroke-making shell, New Zealand would lose a couple of wickets to force his retreat.

New Zealand will have to counter a fresh Allan Donald today after the Proteas spearhead only delivered 10 overs yesterday.

``I think he was being saved for a fairly busy day's bowling tomorrow,'' said South African coach Bob Woolmer when questioned why Donald was not used against stubborn tail-ender Geoff Allott.

Woolmer rates South Africa a chance to dismiss the Black Caps within a day, but acknowledges that early wickets are essential to apply pressure.

``Ideally, we would like things to go rather like today, except for the end, with about three wickets a session.

``Obviously we would have wanted to wrap New Zealand up sooner and have another crack at them. But to get eight wickets for 150 on that wicket was still a great effort by our bowlers.''

One of the few blemishes was when South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher missed a rare offering to remove Harris when he was on 26, off Adams at 271 for seven, and it proved costly.

The day's tone was set early when New Zealand lost two wickets in six balls in the first two overs.

Craig McMillan played a dreadful attempted drive at a wide Hansie Cronje delivery to become one of Boucher's four victims in the innings. Medium-pacer Cronje had only come on to bowl a few overs before the second new ball.

Then Matt Horne was bowled by a quicker, flatter delivery by Adams. Suddenly a position of solidity at 210 for two was reduced to 210 for four with two new batsmen.

Adam Parore, facing a dangerous driving charge off the field yesterday, showed more restraint on it, but was undone trying to belatedly leave a Shaun Pollock delivery.

Matthew Bell, still not fully recovered from illness after the recurrence of a stomach bug first contracted at a Super Eights tournament in July in Malaysia, then received a grilling from the Proteas' pace men.

A ball dented his helmet grill, which had to be replaced, before he was bowled by Lance Klusener.

Dion Nash followed soon after as New Zealand slumped to 251 for seven, but the ever-competitive Daniel Vettori showed spirit to contribute a handy 32 down the order, before attacking once too often and being caught in the deep.

The third umpire was needed to rule before Simon Doull was dismissed chipping a grass top catch to mid-wicket, but then came Harris's defiant stand with Allott, which lasted most of the final session and left New Zealand with only one second innings over to face before stumps.

Source: The Christchurch Press
Editorial comments can be sent to The Christchurch Press at press@press.co.nz