Black Caps learning 'subtle differences' of new groundsman's Dunedin pitch for first Test against Proteas


The Black Caps have more than just a difficult South African side on their minds heading into today's first Test in Dunedin with a new groundsman taking the reins at University Oval.

The New Zealand side have won four consecutive Tests at home this summer against Pakistan and Bangladesh but have yet to play on the Dunedin venue this season.

Adding to the unpredictability of the pitch is former Aorangi Oval groundsman Mike Davies taking charge at University Oval for his international debut.

University Oval is regarded as a docile pitch, so what Davies prepares for his maiden Test wicket could be impactful on the result of the match.

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 17: A general view of the University Oval, Dunedin during the ICC Cricket World Cup match between New Zealand and Scotland at University Oval on February 17, 2015 in Dunedin, New Zealand.  (Photo by Rob Jefferies-IDI/IDI via Getty Images)

A general view of the University Oval, Dunedin during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup match between New Zealand and Scotland.

Source: Getty

It's something Black Caps captain Kane Williamson says the team is keeping in mind.

"We want to get his [Davies] thoughts on some subtle differences that we might have experienced previously on this surface," Williamson said.

"By all accounts it will be similar to what we're used to. The green grass might offer a little bit to the seamers initially.

"The wicket in the past has been liable to change quite quickly."

It means both pace and spin could be an option with spinner Jeetan Patel recently taking six wickets for Wellington in a Plunket Shield match against Otago before rain interrupted play.

The veteran spinner crafted two key wickets against the Canterbury Kings this afternoon and he made sure everyone in the Basin Reserve could hear it.

Wellington's Jeetan Patel celebrates a wicket.

Source: Photosport

"He's been bowling well and is an aggressive spinning option," Williamson said.

"The Dunedin surface has taken a bit of turn and slows up, so he's an option we're considering."

The Black Caps have not lost at the Dunedin ground since it debuted in 2008, taking three wins and four draws in the seven matches played there, including a deadlock with South Africa in 2012.

While the Test sides are yet to be officially announced, South African Test captain Faf du Plessis confirmed yesterday pace bowler Morne Morkel would return after finally overcoming an ongoing back injury with Duanne Olivier benched as a result.

Du Plessis said there was some strategic reasoning to the recall as he hoped to target the four top and middle order batsmen the Black Caps are expected to select for the Test.

"Morne is successful against lefties and that's one of the main reasons he got the nod ahead of Duanne," Du Plessis said.

"Bounce is a huge factor and the angle of the ball as it comes out of his hand - it goes into right-handers or away from left-handers. He's terrible to face in the nets as a right-hander because you always feel like it's going to hit you in the ribs."

The first Test between the Black Caps and Proteas gets underway at 11am today.

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