Test cricket reigns supreme as the purest, toughest and most sublime form of the game

2014-03-07 00:00

AS the sun set over Newlands in Cape Town on Wednesday to herald the end of the third Test and the series against Australia, cricket lovers were left asking the question, “Why isn’t there more?”

Thankfully it was a three-Test series that this time around produced an overall winner, the Australians getting across the line to win the series 2-1 and still deny South Africa a series win against them in our own backyard since re-admission.

No one can deny that the three matches, which have flown by in the blink of an eye, have enthralled the nation. The Aussies arrived cocky and confident, rightly so after smashing England 5-0 in the Ashes and boasted they had the best pace attack in world cricket, led by the fiery and rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson.

The point was proved at Centurion in the first Test when Johnsone blasted the Proteas aside with 12 wickets in the match, giving the visitors an important 1-0 lead in the series.

Down but not out, the Proteas bounced back in Port Elizabeth and the final Test, to those who appreciate the nature of Test cricket, was a cracker.

Five days of intense battle, each side wanting to put the other down and finish them off. It all came down to a matter of overs and time, the Proteas putting the wood down, watching time tick by as they endeavoured to save the game.

With 25 minutes left on the fifth day, it was all over.

A fantastic Test match and yet another statement, a cry from the players, the spectators, that Test cricket reigns supreme as the purest, toughest and most sublime form of the game.

There is no other game that holds such a rich heritage of statistics, facts and feats, no other game that has players calling on all their prowess, all their stamina over five long days.

It’ a brilliant game to follow. The first day, in most instances of a Test, bears no hint of what will transpire. Like boxers dancing in a ring, each side throws a jab or two to see where the opposition’s defences could leak, a weak spot.

Then it’s game on as the plot unfolds, the story gets written and the match finds its course.

We may have lost the series, but cricket, Test cricket, was the clear winner. Both sides gave their all and never was that made more clear than when the shadows lengthened and the clock ticked at Newlands.

It was clear the Proteas were never going to win, but they were never going to just hand the spoils to the Aussies. There was still a whole day to play, overs to face, batting to be done. Kyle Abbott, the night watchman, set the tone, facing 89 balls for his seven runs.

This may not sound exciting, but it was better. It was riveting. It was about frustration, irritating the bowlers and fielders, using up valuable time and it so nearly paid off.

The day wore on. Lunch came and went, so too afternoon tea. There was hope. A nation was holding its breath and in the end, it was so close.

When it was all over, we were left with the horrible realisation that it will be many months before the Proteas play Test cricket again. Imagine just one more Test in the series, a fourth Test. Would we be able to come back? Would the Aussies hit us with a knock-out punch and take the series by two matches?

It’s a matter of speculation as to what would have happened, but loyal supporters to the end, we would like to believe we would rise from the ashes once more and square matters once more.

Test cricket is brilliant and it’s easy to see why players want to be remembered playing in such an arena.

It is a game to be respected, cherished, preserved and … played more often.

With the new arrangements within the ICC, there is hope that Test cricket will be given the attention it and thousands around the world feel it deserves. We definitely want more and so do the players. The work, the focus and how they push their body to the limit, makes the players true athletes playing an unforgiving sport.

At the end of it all, it was great to see the respect both sides had for the game and each other.

South Africa and international cricket said goodbye to Graeme Smith and the respect shown by the Australian team, in particularly captain Michael Clarke, cements Smith’s place as a giant of the game, one the best to have graced the international arena.

That is why Test cricket is respected and all we need to do is ensure it grows and players are giving the opportunity and privilege to become good at it by playing more often.

Commentator HD Ackerman summed it up best at the end when he said, “This series, this match, makes me understand why I love the game so much. It was a draw, yet it was one of the great Test matches.

“If the Proteas had succumbed before lunch, it would have been seen as a bad loss, but they fought on. The 245-run loss indicates a heavy defeat, but it’s not just about the numbers.

“It’s about character, defiance and fighting for your country.”

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