Ray White on how Bangladesh have been no match for the ambitious Proteas

2008-11-28 00:00

BY the time you read this the second Test match against the outclassed Bangladeshis could be over. South Africans will hope that this match has produced greater consistency from Morne Morkel, an innings of substance from Kallis and freedom from any tour-threatening injuries.

Otherwise the match will have had little value for the participants.

Having made good progress for a couple of years the Bangladesh team has been badly affected by the defection of its best players to the rebel Indian T20 cricket league. With their full-member status of the ICC protected by the godfatherly interest of India, for whom the vote of Bangladesh means a continued lock on India’s control of the world body, the Bangladesh board of control has sadly done little to improve the standard of domestic cricket in that country.

What this means is that Test cricket is one of the few means that the Bangladeshi players have of playing cricket above club standards. Yet the likes of Graeme Smith are correct to point out that it serves no purpose to have hopelessly one-sided matches in which one of the teams has little chance, in the absence of poor weather, of avoiding defeat. The difficulty is that although teams need to play Test cricket in order to improve it is counterproductive for their morale to be battered by a string of humiliating defeats.

It amazes me that the ICC persists with arranging five-day Test matches for the Bangladeshis.

Surely it would be better if their Test matches were confined to three days as was the case with all the lesser teams in the early days of the original Imperial Cricket Conference. Of course it is probably futile to suggest that the Dubai-based ICC adopt any policy from the days when cricket was controlled from its spiritual home at Lord’s.

Yet the shorter Test matches worked for all the weaker teams, including South Africa. Defeat was not an inevitable outcome in three days and draws were regarded as worthy results. The stronger teams were forced to make the running for victory with the result that they did not run up huge totals while batting for five sessions. A day’s batting and two days’ worth of bowling were considered sufficient for them to force victory. Draws were not begrudged to their opponents for whom the avoidance of defeat was a victory of sorts.

In 1949 the New Zealanders played four three-day Tests and drew all of them. That team returned home as heroes. I happened to have been in New Zealand 50 years later when the survivors of the 49ers, known there as the “Invincibles”, were honoured for that achievement, which was regarded as having set cricket on a sure path in that rugby-mad country. There was no gnashing of teeth when, a few years later, the Kiwis were bowled out by England for just 26 runs.

Batsmen did not set about three-day Tests with the purpose of inflating their own records.

Selectors often took advantage of these matches to rest their best players in order to give others a chance to see what they could do. In other words these games offered challenges and opportunities for both the strong and the weak. They were not regarded as tiresome burdens on overworked cricketers.

An added benefit in these days of crowded calendars is that two three-day Tests could be scheduled in little over a week. Furthermore the sanctity of the prime Test match records would be more likely to be preserved. This is probably of more importance to the players that hold these records but one should not ignore that band of cricket lovers for whom statistics tell their own dusty stories.

In the meantime the new selectors have chosen the team to take on the Australians. Graeme Smith’s squad contains no surprises other than the inclusion of Robin Petersen ahead of Johan Botha. It may be that left-arm spin is part of their gameplan, but more likely that Petersen has been selected to fulfill his traditional role as the maker up of the numbers’ game that one had hoped had been abandoned. If this is the case it seems to matter less than usual because Petersen has become a decent cricketer with enough to offer if Harris is still unfit when the Tests start.

If any of the frontline fast bowlers loses form or is injured in Australia, as is likely with three back-to-back Tests, I cannot see either Zondeki or Tsotsobe stepping in with much hope of success. The former is out of form and the latter needs another full season playing domestic cricket rather than traipsing round Australia bowling in the nets. Our fast bowling resources are limited at the moment in contrast to our batting where a healthy number of gifted youngsters are beginning to make their mark.

I really hope that the selectors look closely at Vaughan van Jaarsveld for the one-day internationals. He is one of the few batsmen in this country who effortlessly hits the ball out of the ground. We saw in England how the ODI team is in need of such a batsman in the middle of the order. It should be remembered that both Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist came into ODI cricket as big hitters long before they graduated to the longer game, as also did a certain Kevin Pietersen.

•Ray White is a former UCB president.

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