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Last Updated:  Sunday, 16 March, 2003, 11:07 GMT
Port Elizabeth pitch under scrutiny
By Oliver Brett
BBC Sport in Port Elizabeth

Only one of the 15 grounds used at this World Cup has attracted any real criticism for the state of its wickets.

Australia's top order failed on both previous visits to Port Elizabeth

To Australia's chagrin, it happens to be the ground where they will meet Sri Lanka in the first semi-final.

St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, has staged four games thus far with the last two, in particular, featuring slow pitches, low scores, assistance for the seamers and difficulties for most of the batsmen.

It is some relief then that the wicket for the semi-final will be the one used for the first round match between New Zealand and West Indies, which saw an aggregate of 462 runs scored.

Andrew McLean, stadium manager, has had a recent visit from Hilbert Smith, head of grounds for the World Cup.

But he told BBC Sport that Smith had found "nothing untoward" with the state of the wickets.

"His feeling is that it's not the preparation, it's in the actual surface, which is pretty old," said McLean.

England's two matches here, against Namibia and Australia, and the Australia-New Zealand fixture, were all played on old pitches.

It's like baking a cake - a combination of science and art
St George's Park stadium manager Andrew McLean

But the pitch for the semi-final is a much newer track.

"We call the pitch soil 'bully' and it traditionally comes from a town about two hours from here," says McLean.

"But our new pitches are laid with bully from Natal, and it is exactly the same as what's used in Durban.

"So far in this World Cup the first two pitches I was very happy with. The third one was a bit slow, we acknowledged that.

"The last one was slightly too moist. Had it been harder it would have been fine.

"It's like baking a cake, a combination of science and art, except a cake is baked in an oven, which is a controlled environment. Here we often have gale force winds for two days before a match."

Exactly 48 hours before the first ball is due to be bowled in the semi-final, groundsman Adrian Carter and his assistants are rolling grass-cuttings into the wicket.

The theory is that the dead grass provides protection between the roller and the wicket, and also allows stops the moisture in the pitch evaporating.

Groundsmen working at Port Elizabeth
Organisers hope the semi-finals will see plenty of runs scored

Carter explains: "I have been here since 1996 and we embarked on a re-laying programme in 1999. So we are aware that some of the pitches are old and need to be re-done.

"Down here we will never get a pitch as quick as and as bouncy as Centurion but it does not mean we can't still provide a decent pitch."

McLean enjoys variety and suggests that cricket fans too should appreciate that certain pitches will always be slightly different to others.

"Do the administrators want us to produce a pitch which is the same all round the world?" he asks.

"One-day cricket has become too stereotypical - runs at the beginning, slow in the middle, runs at the death. That pattern needs to be changed."

ICC name semi-final umpires
16 Mar 03 |  World Cup
Have Your Say on Australia
04 Jan 03 |  Have Your Say
Have Your Say on Sri Lanka
04 Jan 03 |  Have Your Say

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