Ends: Duckpond End, Park Drive End
Home Teams: Warriors, Eastern Province
Head Groundsman: Adrian Carter
Test History: 24 Tests; 9 home wins, 11 away wins, 4 draws
Last 10 Tests: 4 home wins, 4 away wins, 2 draws
Last 10 Tosses: 7 bowled first (5 wins, 2 draws); 3 bat first (3 wins)
St George’s Park is located in the heart of the Eastern Cape’s ‘Friendly City’, which also goes by the name of ‘The Windy City’ because of the blustery conditions. Situated a stone’s throw from Port Elizabeth’s beautiful beaches, the ground symbolically occupies the central park. The ground is also famous for its brass band, which dates back as far as 1867.
Lesser known interesting facts about St George’s Park include: It was the venue for the first Test to be played outside of England or Australia, the ground hosted the first women’s international Test, it staged the last Test before South Africa’s expulsion from world cricket, South Africa recorded their first ever Test series win against Australia here – and the first rebel Test was hosted here.
The ground has also been home to some world-class cricketers, including the Pollock brothers – Peter and Graeme, with the latter fondly known as the “Prince of St George’s Park”. One of the great modern bowling performances took place at the ground in 1992, when Alan Donald claimed 12 for 139 against India on what described as a ‘dead pitch’ and ‘a fast bowler’s graveyard’.
Last Time Out
South Africa had not won in Port Elizabeth in more than a decade ahead of January’s 2013’s series decider against New Zealand, largely due to the venue’s six-year exile from Test match cricket. That shoddy streak ended before lunch on day four, though, as centuries from batsmen Hashim, Amla and Faf du Plessis – and fast bowler Dale Steyn’s match haul of eight wickets – completed an innings and 193-run victory.
“I’d like to give it a cut. If it was left like this, I’d be skeptical even for the franchise game because I think there would be a lot of assistance for the seamers. At the moment, its very furry and it’s green. I have had a phone call from the South African camp and I’ll talk to them again and see what they want.” – head groundsman Adrian Carter told ESPNcricinfo.
“Whether it’s a slow wicket or a quick wicket, if a guys is going at 150 kilometres per hour, its quick. So the pitch won’t play a big role in whether a guy like Johnson is effective or not. He is bowling well so it the pace of the wicket doesn’t matter. It will be completely different from the Highveld. We know it’s a touch slower and there’s an almost sub-continent feel.” – Proteas fast bowler Morne Morkel.
“When you play in South Africa you get accustomed to the wicket not turning; it’s nothing new. You have to set clever fields and try to create pressure with your field placings. By doing that, the batters can become frustrated whether or not the wicket is turning so you have a chance, that is what I have learned from playing in South Africa and playing on wickets that aren’t too spin friendly.” – South African spinner Robin Peterson.
“We will see what the pitch is like, perhaps we will need to play an additional bowler in Port Elizabeth. Mitchell Johnson was really effective in Adelaide, when it was a flatter wicket and reversed a bit, so a slower pitch here should not affect him.” – Australian coach Darren Lehmann.
Happy Hunting Ground
The PE ground has not been good to South Africa’s experienced batsmen, with Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers all enduring venue aggregates inferoir to their career averages. Amla, Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis, however, will remember fondly the trio of centuries against the Kiwis last time out.
Bowling-wise, Dale Steyn has defied history – and charactherised a recent fast bowling-friendly trend in Port Elizabeth – by gathering 16 wickets in three matches. Robin Peterson took four wickets against the Kiwis in 2013.
None of Australia’s current crop have played a Test at St George’s Park, but survivors from 2009 and 2011’s ODI defeats – Johnson and Michael Clarke – will chase revenge in the longer format.
Partly cloudy conditions are expected throughout the five days, with scattered showers predicted on days one and five. Inclement weather, too, is likely to mar the build-up – as the nature of the pitch is affected by numerous hours spent sweating under covers. Temperatures are likely to be reasonably cool for a South African summer, with a high of 27 degrees Celsius.
Traditionally renowned for slow pitches conducive to spin and attritional cricket, the complexity of St George’s Park conditions have turned somewhat since the turn of the decade. Fast bowlers are no longer deprived of carry and bounce and, although the selection of a specialist spinner remains a must, it is not as instrumental a component as in the past.
First-class cricket at this venue this season have fortified a slew of decisions to bat first, with steely right- and left-handers determined to guts out a tricky opening patch later able to capitalise. Indeed, the general insistence of the past on bowling first seems to have been put to pasture. However, probably cloudy conditions on day one – and the threat of rain – are likely to influence Graeme Smith or Michael Clarke’s decision.