South Africa, specifically Durban, is home to one of the most fondly remembered moments in Test cricket. The idea that a Test between nations could go on as long as it had to has long since gone of course, but the images of English batsmen scrambling to catch a boat home after what all reports say were the arguably greatest nine days of cricket not to involve the Ashes embodies all that those who love cricket hold dear in the game. Now, sadly, South Africa, specifically Johannesburg, shall be known as the home of what will be called the Television Test.
The current SA Test side, easily the greatest and most feared Test side since the almost all conquering Australian team of the 90s and 00s, could have won a Test match against Pakistan within 2 days. Quite a remarkable achievement that would have been, since the minnows of Test cricket, Bangladesh and the current, sorry looking New Zealand team, at least make it as far as 3. For some reason, though, South Africa did not opt to enforce the follow on with Pakistan out for 40, instead opting to bat again. This is a decision that bothers me greatly.
The only possible reason for South Africa not seeking to send a ferocious message to all future opponents by taking apart a competent Pakistan Test side in two days is, sadly, money. For what other reason would a Test side not wish to chalk up a convincing win other than - possibly under pressire - to please the ground owners and the television broadcasters?
It is a shame that, whether you like him or not, the 100th time Mr Smith has captained a Test side will be remembered along with some questions. You could argue that the decision not to enforce the follow on was some sort of gesture of kindness, to make the inevitable defeat not look so bad for Pakistan. Really? They are probably going to lose by at least 300 runs, I do not see how that sounds better than losing by an innings and a handful of runs, or possibly even 9 or 10 wickets if they had somehow managed to get enough to make SA bat again on Saturday.
I understand that money is an important factor of every sport. I am worried, however, that what we saw here was the TV rights saying "well, to keep our broadcast value this needs to stretch to at least 3 days", possibly with the ground management wishing to get a decent, paying crowd in on the third day too. Understandable concerns, but ones that may well have stepped over the line and influenced the decisions made and the outcome of the game.
If someone told a boxer, clearly in the lead against a battered opponent, not to knock out their opponent until after a few more rounds, or if a tennis player was on Match Point but told to let the opponent back in a bit, in both cases to sell a few drinks or advertise a few more things on TV, the cries of match fixing would be far, wide and loud. Just what is it that happened in this Test, then?
I really hope someone reads this and comes up with an honest, plausible answer as to why SA did not simply crush Pakistan within 2 days as they could have beyond my speculation here. As far as I can see, this magnificent side has been denied the chance to record a spectacular, never to be forgotten result, trading it in instead for an extra day of play and a routine win.
On the plus side, you would imagine those notorious illegal bookmakers may well have taken a hiding on betting in regards of Pakistan being forced to follow on. Rich illegal bookies taking a slight financial knock, however, is rather insignificant to the game of cricket.
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