Minnows won’t help SA get ready for OZ

2008-11-04 00:00

I have enjoyed listening to Allan Border, one of Australia’s greatest and toughest captains, commentating during the series in India, not so much for his skill as a commentator, but for his absolute passion for Test cricket.

His love for the game and appreciation of what it is like to be in the middle of a hard-fought contest has been obvious and added even more excitement to what has been an enthralling Test series.

When Australia were facing the mountain of over 600 runs in the drawn third Test, Border made a comment which really sums up what Test cricket is all about. Admitting that he is “old school”, he went on to say that the situation Australia were in, and the challenge they faced were what true Test cricket was all about and the reason why international cricketers played the game. He highlighted the nature of the contest which had the Australians with their backs to the wall, fighting for survival, enjoying the struggle and using all their techniques to survive bowlers of skill.

In stark contrast to this were the English and West Indian players vying for a share of Stanford’s millions in the Caribbean this weekend. They had very little interest in the game of cricket, but were clearly intent on leaving Antigua with their pockets full.

The English players, apparently, were embarrassed by the wads of money they would be making and were eager to get the tournament behind them so they could get back to their “proper” job of playing cricket for their country over the winter. While there is all the razzmatazz surrounding 20/20 cricket, there is still nothing that beats a Test match for the players and genuine supporters.

Watching South Africa pulverise the woeful Kenyans, who were clearly out of their depth, was a miserable experience and did little, in my opinion, to promote international cricket.

Of course, it is match practice for the Proteas, but to be honest, they would probably have had more competition playing for their franchises in the SuperSport matches over the weekend.

The problem with competing against teams of this standard is that performances flatter individual statistics and make players look better than they actually are.

A testing tour in Australia lies ahead and these statistics garnered against Kenya could soon be given some fresh perspective.

Speaking of minnows, the cricketers of Bangladesh are now in the country. Their tour begins with a 20/20 match today at the Wanderers, followed by a few one-day internationals and two Test matches. The Bangladeshi squad have lost players, lured by the money in the Indian Cricket League and Indian Professional League, so they are not at full strength. They definitely have a couple of talented individuals, but they will, no doubt, suffer the same fate as the Kenyans.

Teams from the sub-continent touring South Africa find it particularly challenging because the conditions here are so different to those in Asia. They find it tough to adjust to the bounce and sideways movement and it is this limitation which the South Africans can exploit with their fast bowlers and all-rounders.

Playing against these minnow teams is hardly an ideal build-up for what is to come for the South Africans in Australia this summer.

While the Proteas will warm up with a series of one-sided contests, the Australians are involved in a tough and intense series against a high quality Indian side.

Performances in the series against Bangladesh will provide us with very little idea of how the Proteas will perform down under. And that is where genuine Test cricket will be played and where the true challenge lies.

• NEIL JOHNSON is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who now lives and coaches cricket in Pietermaritzburg.

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