SuperSport curator feels the heat ahead of Test debut

The SuperSport Park strip ahead of the second Test between South Africa and India Sidharth Monga

Bryan Bloy is looking at his first Test pitch. You might think that's why he is nervous.

The SuperSport strip is "a bit browner" than Faf du Plessis thought it would be, and considering the South African captain has ordered spicy surfaces - and that this is his home ground, and also that he was frank in saying what he saw didn't exactly meet his expectations - it would make sense if Bloy was a little worried.

But it's not what the eye can see that has raised Bloy's nervousness. Instead, it's all the interest in him and the way he goes about his job, something that Bloy has done under the radar since he started in September 2016.

Bloy is less than 18 months into the position as curator at SuperSport Park and this is his first Test pitch. It's only his fourth international strip after two one-day matches and a T20, all of which were packed with runs. He's been tasked with producing the opposite now, a bowler-friendly surface, and there are many eyes watching him. Bloy has never had this much attention lavished on him before and it's understandable that he isn't enjoying it, especially since he doesn't think he will deliver anything vastly different from the Centurion pitches of the past.

"We don't try to change things around too much," Bloy told ESPNcricinfo. "On the Highveld, conditions allow for bouncy wickets. That's our strength at SuperSport Park and we try to play to our strength. This is the Highveld and these are the kinds of wickets we prepare."

Bloy's predecessor Hilbert Smit spent years saying the same thing. The basic premise of an upcountry pitch is that it will have pace, bounce and good carry. The rest depends on how much grass is left on it, which will determine the amount of seam movement. At Newlands last week, Evan Flint tried to get as much live grass he could and also had mid-match rain which resulted in a surface with more movement than usual, especially in the Cape.

The SuperSport Park pitch also has a lot of grass on it, but not green grass, partly because extreme heat in the build-up burnt it off. "You need a little bit of grass to assist the ball but when its 37 degrees in the build-up, everything is tricky," Bloy said. "We don't have a lot of live grass, but there is a lot of grass."

That means movement off the seam will not be as "extreme," in the words of Aiden Markram, who also plays his domestic cricket in Centurion, as it was at Newlands. That, probably, is something batsmen on both sides want to hear. Du Plessis' concern is that the brown grass will continue to burn off as the match goes on, by exposure of the surface to the blazing sun which could cause deterioration. If that happens, the pitch could take turn, but it would be unusual. "Generally Centurion doesn't spin that much, but there is a thick layer of brown grass on it, which is not something we're used to seeing," du Plessis said. "So it's an unknown. Hopefully it doesn't turn. To get the conditions that we would like, the ball must spin as little as possible."

Bloy confirmed there will be some wear on the pitch but not enough to turn around corners and already spoke to du Plessis on what to expect. "I met Faf yesterday when they arrived for training. The guys arrived and had a look at the pitch and we discussed what we think it's going to do. They kind of know what to expect," Bloy said. "It's going to be a good SuperSport Park track. On day one, the pitch plays a little slowish. Not slow, but slowish. And then it quickens and gets better. Day two and three will be better to bat on. It will quicken up. And then with the forecast, it should deteriorate a bit on day four and five. Upfront, it shouldn't be easy and then it should flatten out and then deteriorate."

Whatever happens towards the latter part of the match, bounce will be a factor throughout and India know it. "It looks likely a really lively pitch - exactly what we expected it to be and we actually wanted it to be that way, so that both teams are into the contest provided they play some good cricket," India captain Virat Kohli said. "This pitch will again test us to play our best cricket and that is something that we are looking forward to."

Kohli has again told his batsmen to be prepared for the rising ball. "One must not get surprised by the bounce here," he said. "We have to maintain composure when you get sudden change of bounce which you experience in South Africa. There are other pitches around the world as well but here the bounce can be steep. It can be quite steep from length also. Those are things you mentally need to tune yourself to, get over and mentally adjust to, accept that this is going to be a major part of batting in South Africa."

Kohli and Co will be hearted by Bloy's pre-match prediction that even though it may be tough for batting, he anticipates a match that will go into four days. "I expect it to go longer than three days. I hope it goes four days," Bloy said. "You can never tell. You prepare the wicket and then its up to the players."

From Saturday, Bloy hopes that the attention will shift to the players and that he can sneak out of the spotlight and away from the stress. He described the intensity of this job as being higher than in any of his previous positions, none of which have involved an international sporting venue.

After studying turf and grass management with a previous curator at SuperSport Park, Rudolph du Preez, Bloy started off doing golf course maintenance. From 2010, he worked at a university managing their all sports grounds - a grand total of 25. At SuperSport Park, he only has one field to worry about but it's more than enough. "It might have been easier there (at the university). I had been there for a long time so I had things dialed in. There is a lot of focus here and a lot of hype about Test-match cricket," Bloy said.

And it's only the beginning.