Now that the Ashes is done and dusted, with Australia winning against all expectations, nay, annihilating England, one little fact comes to the fore again. Test cricket is the greatest game in the world, bar none.
I love one-day cricket and even T20, but there is nothing to match the good, old-fashioned grind of Test cricket, even when it ends in a draw. And I don’t mean those meaningless contests in the sub-continent that are played on virtual runways, where the bowlers have no chance of taking wickets.
I mean South Africa chasing 500 plus and just falling short. I mean Graham Onions playing out ball after ball to ensure a draw rather than a loss. I mean Michael Atherton batting for seven and a half hours to score 189 not out.
What does the one-day game have to rival it? What does any other sport?
Reading on Cricinfo the other day I was surprised to see that Stuart Broad’s one ball had gone for seven runs, so I concluded, incorrectly as it turns out, a six was hit off a no-ball. No. Brad Haddin ran three and Ian Bell threw the ball over the wicketkeeper’s head all the way to the boundary.
When things are going wrong, they really go wrong!
I support Man United and I don’t think, over the course of a season, there are as many twists and turns in soccer as in one really well contested test match. The Champion’s League final against Bayern springs to mind, but that is one isolated incident.
Let’s go to Newlands 2011. Michael Clarke scored 151 of Australia’s 284 all out; hardly an imposing score. Till South Africa batted, and were bowled out for 96. It really seemed to be a case of normal service resuming against Australia.
Then Australia were bowled out for 47, their second lowest total ever. South Africa went on to win the match by eight wickets, with Hashim Amla scoring an unbeaten 112. Who woulda thunk it?
The second test at the Wanderers, it was South Africa who posted a sub-par total of 266. Australia replied with 296. Obviously the wicket was doing something!
The second innings, South Africa scored 339, with Hashim Amla again scoring a hundred. Pat Cummins announced himself in style and Australia managed to win that one by two wickets. Michael Clarke said, in the post-match interview that it should have been at least a three-match series. That match finished on the fifth day.
So why the paucity of crowds, with the exception of Newlands? It’s not as if they’re not being entertained.
Melbourne, for the Boxing Day test, had just under ninety two thousand people crammed in. Kingsmead just over four thousand. The Kingsmead match was far more exciting, in fact riveting, than the Ashes match in Melbourne, so why the discrepancy in crowd sizes?
It seems only England and Australia still genuinely support Test cricket, and ticket prices in those countries are outrageous, but the people stream into the grounds. Here, where ticket prices are cheap, where the atmosphere is convivial and our team the best in the world, we can’t be bothered to go to the ground to support them.
Ricky Ponting stated that a full Wanderers was one of the most daunting sights in world cricket, because of the seeming proximity of the people. The 434-438 match is a case in point. The Wanderers was filled to capacity and it was one of the greatest game of cricket I’ve ever witnessed.
Why don’t we do it for our Test team, who are genuinely the best in the world? Is it because we lack the patience to see a top bowler and batsman trying to get an edge on the other, the game of chess that seems to go on out in the middle?
Perhaps I’m, biased because I come from Cape Town, but I’ve never experienced the slow handclap at Newlands because of a slow passage of play. We become engrossed. Why can’t the batsman score? What is the bowler doing? In the old, Apartheid days, that didn’t even happen in the Railway Stands, which were reserved for the Coloureds, who are not slow to offer a word or two.
Of course, the fault does not lie solely with our cricket-watching public: how could it? The fault is that of the monster that dictates to every sport how it should be played. The monster is TV. Watching a duel between Shane Warne and Brian Lara was engrossing to the cricket-lover, not so much to the advertisers, without whom TV could not survive.
IPL? Big Bash League? Ram Slam? That’s more like it! Games that move fast and are over in three hours. That’s what the advertisers, and unfortunately the great unwashed, the target market of the advertisers, want.
Who wants to watch Faf Du Plessis bat for seven and a half hours to save a game, a game that’s already been going for four days, when they can watch a slugfest that includes measuring how far that six was hit? Does it count for more runs?!
In our first test after readmission, in the West Indies, Phil Simmonds hit a ball right out of the stadium and a young boy ran away with it. That wasn’t measured! They got out a box of balls, found another in approximately the same condition and carried on playing.
Finally, after starting with seven off one ball, I’ll finish with another. Wasim Akram, in a test against the West Indies, hit the ball so high, that the batsmen crossed for seven runs while the ball was in the air. The poor fielder not only dropped the catch, but dislocated a finger in the attempt.
This is, of course, a complete lie, but a good way to end a whinge.
And if you are unhappy with this article, wrap it round a brick and throw it through Zion’s window.