Cricket: Martin returns to unhappy hunting ground

Chris Martin. Photo Reuters
Chris Martin. Photo Reuters
The last time New Zealand played in Port Elizabeth, Chris Martin was just starting a test career now entering its 13th year.

He's the only survivor from that seven-wicket loss in 2000 among the New Zealand squad trying against huge odds to square the two-test series starting at St George's Park on Friday.

The country's third-highest test wicket taker with 233, Martin took five wickets in the second test in a career 71 matches old. South African veteran Jacques Kallis is the only other player still going around from that match, his contribution being 12 and 23.

The word on the pitch here is that it's likely to be slower than Cape Town and tend towards the lower side in the bounce department.

Martin's recollections of the only other game he's played at the ground are dim.

"It was on my first tour and my wheels would have been spinning and I probably can't really remember the track," the lean 38-year-old said.

"I remember it being pretty slow and, if you bowled a dead or soft length, then it sat up nicely to get hit. You learn quite a lot on those wickets and the bowlers will have to work a lot harder to get their wickets."

There's been no test played at St Georges since 2007. Of the 23 played in the city since 1889, South Africa have won only eight and lost 11 so it hasn't exactly been a banker of a venue for the home team.

One of New Zealand's most successful overseas tours, to South Africa in 1961-62, ended in a series-levelling 40-run win on the ground.

New Zealand have had a recent look at the ground, however. It was the venue for the third and final T20 game last month, which South Africa won by 33 runs.

It didn't look like a five-day pitch, but then groundsmen go about their preparations for different versions of the game in different ways.

"It looked pretty dry," was Martin's assessment.

He is among a group of bowlers trying to simulate as best they can what New Zealand's batsmen will face this week.

The innings defeat in Cape Town, which featured the embarrassing 45 all out in the first innings, gave them a good insight into the relentlessness and pace of the South African attack.

The nets obviously can't replicate the experience of coping with Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, respectively the world No 1, 2 and 8-ranked bowlers.

"It's very hard to imagine facing Steyn and Morkel and Philander in the nets but, as a group of bowlers, we're trying to lift the ante against our batsmen to make sure they get what they need out of training with a little bit more hostility and aggression," Martin said.

"Overall you can walk away from a training if you've trained like that and feel more ready to deal with the fight.".

That Cape Town test was over before tea on day three. So days four and five involved tough training sessions to at least partly compensate.

"You've got to expect to turn up on day four and five and put in the hard yards," Martin said. "Turning up and giving quite a lot in the nets has been beneficial and also gives the guys an understanding of how much more work they need to do to get those games going into the last day.

"Now we know the challenge, intensity and attitude we bring to training has to be as close to a test match as possible."

Meanwhile, although all is progressing smoothly for world No 1 South Africa on the field, it's not entirely plain sailing off it.

Cricket South Africa's acting president Willie Basson is tipped to resign next week after his alleged involvement in South Africa's apartheid era chemical warfare project was revealed.

A new CSA board is to be appointed next month and there is a dispute over the makeup of the board.

Recommendations from the Nicholson Inquiry into the running of cricket in the country last year called for five independent directors on an 11-member board.

But the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee - the governing body for the country's sporting codes - is unhappy with that breakdown. They don't want that many independents and don't want an independent chair as the Nicholson recommendations stipulate.

- David Leggat of the New Zealand Herald in Port Elizabeth

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