A cricket fest that felt too contrived

2014-01-06 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The reasonably nail-biting finish was just about enough to revise my own verdict on the inaugural State of Origin Twenty20 cricket match at Newlands here on Saturday from humdrum experience to modest success.

And if anyone agrees with that reasonably middle-of-the-road contention, the logical next question to ask would be: was it strong enough fare to warrant annual installation to the domestic fixture list?

My answer leans toward “no” … though I wouldn’t object too loudly to another stab a couple of years up the road, perhaps with a Highveld venue this time given an opportunity to see if it can somehow bed it down as a fairly regular feature.

I feared before the game began that regional passions are much more easily raised in South Africa’s rugby landscape than at the summer pursuit, and little evidence was presented to alter that suspicion as the always batting-strong North XI duly saw off their southern counterparts by three wickets with a ball to spare.

Jubilant street celebrations are unlikely in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein, whilst heads are unlikely to be bowed too severely or for too long in places like Durban, Port Elizabeth and the host city for the maiden fixture.

It just felt a tad too contrived and, at times when the contest just dawdled for a few overs, it was almost difficult to remember exactly which bright-shirted combo particular players were representing.

Even Hashim Amla, one of the country’s finest players and not one known for making the slightest of brash or controversial statements, admitted in a snap television interview after his bright knock for the North — er, sorry, South — that it had been tricky for teams to gel given how quickly and just a bit confusingly they were assembled on the day.

In fairness, I suppose marketing onslaughts for another clash of this kind might be easier to amass if it earns more orthodox, stand-alone status, rather than being merely the middle part of a three-day sandwich featuring different ingredients in the Cell C Festival of Cricket.

What was all too obvious was the significant fall-off (by well more than half, it seemed) in attendance terms after the near full house for the unpretentious fun that was the exhibition match between the Proteas and Springboks less than 24 hours earlier.

The North-South fixture also suffered, I felt, from carrying over too much of the bonhomie from the game preceding it.

When there isn’t genuine needle, there also isn’t true purpose or intrigue to proceedings, is there?

I get the sense that connoisseurs of the game — or read: staunch Test-lovers — are irked, too, by the cynical proliferation of five T20 games over the three days at Newlands, about as violent a departure from the five-day international combat they would normally bank on at this time of year as you could get.

Frankly, even a subtle change of style to a 50-overs match at some stage during the “festival” would have made a pleasant diversion, although admittedly that brings greater physical demands on the players and a rest day somewhere might have been required under such circumstances.

Far better than a geographical separation into two units of the country’s top stars, I would have loved to have seen, for instance, a flaunting of our current impressive depth of talent through a full-blooded contest between the Proteas’ first-choice ODI side and those immediately and hungrily knocking at the door for selection.

Would that really be so far-fetched a concept?

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