Water runs for Cape Town Test
A LUSH outfield for the third Test between Australia and South Africa belies Cape Town's water crisis, which has threatened to turn arguably the world's most beautiful cricket venue into an ugly eyesore.
The coastal city is in the midst of a crippling drought that has resulted in severe water restrictions, with residents limited to 50 litres a day.
Newlands, renowned for a spectacular backdrop dominated by Table Mountain, uses water from only its borehole to wet the centre wicket block and outfield.
That was the case long before locals started to fear "Day Zero”, the unknown date when Cape Town's taps could run dry and force residents to queue for water.
But even bore water has become a topic of hot debate in the city.
Officials have attempted to crack down on the illegal private sale of it and are also demanding it is used only for toilets.
Almost every aspect of life in Cape Town, including sport, has been affected by what is officially a national disaster.
Grade and school cricket fixtures were cancelled a long time ago.
Newlands curator Evan Flint had been watering his outfield weekly, mindful of the situation. Unsurprisingly it became brown and patchy.
The oval will be picture perfect when the four-Test series continues on Thursday, ensuring reverse swing is harder to attain than in the previous two Tests.
"The field just started to go to pieces, so we then wrote to the city and asked if we could get an exemption. We were given an exemption up until March 21,” Flint told AAP.
"The bore is on our premises, but it was a moral thing. We're in the middle of our worst drought ever.
"It would have looked terrible but I don't think it would have had any impact on the game. Although, yes, it would have been a quick outfield, probably lots of boundaries and a higher-scoring Test.
"If it looked brown it wasn't the end of the world for me.”
It begs the question whether the fixture should have been shifted somewhere else in South Africa.
Flint has received both positive and negative feedback on that front. Some view the upcoming event as an important source of civic pride, others not so much.
"You can imagine how much our water use will spike if you get 15,000 people to the stadium,” Flint said.
"But I think people will generally be mindful of the restrictions. They should use the same amount of water here as they would at home.
"We wanted to get the stadium completely off the municipal grid's drinking water by this Test. We haven't been able to do it - it's quite a process - but next season the entire stadium will run off bore water.”
Cape Town's hopes of hosting international cricket in the 2018-19 season will depend on how much winter rain the city receives, but cricket will be the least of residents' worries if the drought continues.
There are well-placed fears of humanitarian and economic problems.
Cape Town is among Africa's most visited cities, with tourism among the many industries hoping for urgent relief.
Restaurants have rejigged menus, hand sanitiser has replaced soap in plenty of bathrooms, and bath plugs have been removed from hotel rooms.
Steve Smith's side have been given a small insight into the challenges faced by residents.
"It's been quite an education to get a rundown on what it's like to live in a very serious drought,” Cameron Bancroft said.
"It's well labelled in our rooms, the amount of water you can save if you have a one-minute shower, flush the toilet when you need to and things like that.”