An obsessional focus on the weather has long been a British cliché, but South Africa’s squad will also be keeping a close eye on the forecasts at the World Cup. They believe that the notoriously capricious English weather could play a vital role in the outcome of the World Cup, affecting team tactics and tilting the battle between bat and ball.
England recently basked in the hottest Easter weekend on record, and though the May warm spell is not expected to last, the UK Met Office is predicting that this summer will be hotter and drier than average. One member of South Africa’s squad – Aiden Markram – has very recent first-hand experience of the mini-heatwave that kicked off the English summer, having enjoyed a fruitful spell with Hampshire in the Royal London One-Day Cup.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the UK,” Markram said. “The white-ball wickets there played really well, as they have been doing over the last few years. If you think back, the scores have been high and it’s been pretty easy for the batters.
“But having said that, it’s still the UK and you could quite easily get a wicket that’s going to go around,” Markram added. “We’re going to have to adapt pretty well as a side to conditions. The quicker we can get a feel for them, the better. I can personally draw quite a bit from the experience at Hampshire, but a lot can change in England. A lot has got to do with overhead conditions.”
Markram isn’t the only member of England’s squad with a handle on what to expect from English pitches. Dale Steyn had a stint with Hampshire just last summer, Imran Tahir will be representing his eighth County in the Vitality Blast after the World Cup, and captain Faf du Plessis was a County cricketer before he entered the frame for national selection. There is also plenty of experience in the backroom staff. When he’s not working, coach Ottis Gibson still lives there, while both spin bowling coach Claude Henderson and batting coach Dale Benkenstein enjoyed lengthy County stints.
“It’s good that we’ve got that history,” said Gibson. “I’ve had two stints with England. I still live in England. Claude [Henderson] played 10 years at Leicester. Dale [Benkenstein] played 10 years at Durham. From the point of view of conditions, we can give insight and we can give information on conditions and so on.
“It’s good that we’ve got a lot of guys that have also played in England. Aiden has done so recently, and so on. So that gives us a real opportunity. Aiden led the discussion around the conditions that he’s faced just now. Dean Elgar is not in our team, but he’s in England, so we can lean on him for insights. We’ve got enough resources to give us intel, but at the end of the day we have to play.”
Once they’re out on the field, the state of the pitch and overhead conditions will “definitely” affect South Africa’s tactics, added fast bowler Lungi Ngidi.
“One thing that we usually talk about is that the conditions determine how you bowl on the day,” Ngidi said. “It will determine the lengths, the different balls you bowl. In our armoury, we’ve got bowlers who can adapt to any conditions that you throw at us. So it’s very exciting for us, going over there and you hear of high totals so you know that it won’t be easy. It’s a challenge that we’ve accepted and we’re willing to take on.”
For allrounder Chris Morris, placid pitches do not necessarily bring high scores – to score big at the World Cup, batsmen will also need confidence, as well as a little luck along the way.
“It’s probably the best the wickets have been in years, just going on the scores and how dry it is in England at the moment,” Morris said. “I think the wickets are batter-friendly, but it’s all about confidence. Especially at the death. Confidence, and how you’re seeing the ball and how you’re hitting the ball. And you do need a little bit of luck at the death – a couple of edges go your way and it gets the confidence going.”
One bowler who won’t mind a hot, dry summer is Imran Tahir. He reckons a hot summer will bring spin into the tournament – especially towards the back end.
“If it’s a hot summer, it’s good as a spinner,” Tahir explained. “I’ve been playing a lot there. I think at the start of the competition, pitches will be good for batting and as the competition goes it’s going to start spinning. That always happens in England. As a spinner, I’m really excited if the weather stays how it’s been predicted. It’s a good challenge.”