Changeable Hamilton pitch in focus

BJ Watling, who plays his domestic home-matches in Hamilton, says the character of the pitch can change anytime © Associated Press

Pitch prediction sometimes brings to mind the reading of palms or tea leaves.

In the days before a Test, coaches and captains take familiar positions near one end of the track and stare pensively down at the clay; silently nodding or shaking heads, or murmuring softly under their breath. They drop ritualistically, to their haunches to lay hands on the surface, sometimes feeling it with closed eyes, as if searching for the pitch’s life force. Towards the end of the exercise, glances are often thrown skywards and divine guidance is sought. Occasionally, the pitch curator consulted.

Members of both teams observed this tradition, at Seddon Park, on Tuesday, and if they were especially intense during the examination, it is because the Hamilton pitch has had many avatars in recent years. It bounced for Sri Lanka last December, when even a visiting seamer prospered with the short ball, and Sri Lanka’s top order treated the crowd to an unforgettable slapstick collapse. In 2013 it had sung for offspinner Sunil Narine, who took 6 for 91 in the first innings. In the two Tests before that, reverse-swing had defined the outcome. All the way back in 2010, when Australia came, pace and seam movement had proved significant.

Pakistan say they are happy to play on any track, but two days out, this track is just as green as the one at Hagley Oval had been. And although it was a warm, cloudless day, Seddon Park’s curators also kept the surface covered for much of the afternoon. Much of the grass will be retained – all the better to mute Pakistan’s spinner, said New Zealand wicketkeeper-batsman BJ Watling, who also plays on this surface for the Northern Districts domestic side.

“A lot can depend on the cloud cover we get here when conditions are around,” he said. “It can swing when it’s overcast. I’m hoping it doesn’t spin too much because Yasir Shah is a world-class bowler, and we really don’t want to bring him into the game too much.”

In addition to aiding swing, the cloud cover and rain expected for the first three days of the match may also prevent the track from drying out as much as Pakistan and Yasir would like. The forecast has improved through the week, however, and Watling suggested that even a little sunshine could change the pitch’s character.

Todd Astle will likely lose his spot to Mitchell Santner, who has recovered from a fractured wrist © AFP

“Our pitches here can flatten out quite quickly. If it’s green on day one, I can guarantee that by the end of day two, if it stays sunny, it won’t be that green anymore.”

If the pitch does turn out seam-friendly again, the visiting quicks had shown competence in such conditions – particularly on the third morning of the first Test, when the claimed six wickets for 96. Their success had largely come from bowling shorter lengths than they had initially ventured, the previous day.

“Their bowlers are very good, and conditions like these can suit them,” Watling said. “They would have learned from that last match and will adjust their lengths accordingly. They would have learned a lot with the bat as well and we can expect a tougher challenge in this game.”

New Zealand are likely to retain the quicks that played in Christchurch, but will likely swap Mitchell Santner for Todd Astle in the XI. Watling said the hosts’ attack is varied enough to be menacing, even if the ball does not move for as long as expected.

“We know we always have Neil Wagner, who when conditions flatten out, can change a game and give you those couple of crucial wickets to bring our swing bowlers back into the game as well. We’ve got a good balance there. With Colin bowling quite a few overs for us as the allrounder, I think it really helps Kane.”

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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