CAPE TOWN, (Reuters) – Cricket will venture into new territory when South Africa tackle Zimbabwe in the first official four-day test match to be played at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth starting on Tuesday.
It is an experiment, which will also be played with a pink ball as a day/night encounter, that has been met with more enthusiasm in Zimbabwe than their hosts, who will have a number of their experienced campaigners back in action.
Zimbabwe coach Heath Streak believes cutting a day from the game will force teams to score quicker, and that means taking more risks, which could play into the hands of so-called minnow nations.
“In terms of higher and lower ranked (teams), it is much harder to bat a team out (of the game) because in doing so you might make it harder to win the test,” Streak said this week.
“It’s a challenge, though the 98 overs in a day does make it a four-and-a-half day test. It will be interesting and exciting to be part of, hopefully it is something that does work out for the future of test cricket.”
Zimbabwe warmed up for the fixture with a five-wicket loss to a South African Invitation XI in Paarl, a game that was played under lights.
There were half-centuries for Hamilton Masakadza, Ryan Burl and Chamu Chibhabha, but the rest of the batsmen struggled over the two innings against a largely inexperienced bowling attack.
Captain Graeme Cremer was the pick of the tourists’ bowlers as his leg-spin provided eight wickets in the match.
Fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani and Burl, both uncapped at test level, could make their debuts.
South Africa have batsman AB de Villiers available for selection again after he ended his self-imposed exile from test cricket, while Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel have all recovered from injuries to bolster the seam attack.
Steyn played in the warm-up game in Paarl and although he bowled well within himself, the fast bowler created a number of chances off the bat in his wicketless 12 overs while conceding just 16 runs.
“He has been a champion bowler for a long time and along with James Anderson is probably the best of the modern generation in terms of wickets taken, games played and the way he has led the South African attack for a number of years,” South Africa coach Ottis Gibson told reporters.
The match is the start of a busy summer for South Africa, who also play three home five-day tests against India and four versus Australia, to go with a number of matches in the shorter formats.