A no-win situation for all

2012-11-03 00:00

I DO not know anybody, apart from a few retired folk who think they may not make the New Year, who believe it to be a good idea to stage a South Africa-Australia cricket series at a time of the year when most people cannot watch much of it either live or on television. If one of the objectives of the timing of such a series is to promote the game, a schedule in this the busiest of months fails on this account and on all others too.

I cannot conceive of any parents, conscientious or other wise, who would permit their offspring to get up in the middle of the night to see what Graeme Smith and his men are up to when these Test matches are played slap in the middle of the examination season. Perhaps some of the more irresponsible university students might do so although for them it would be more a case of not going to bed at all than getting up in the middle of the night.

How many of us stumbled out of bed in the dark hours just to see what the score was during that memorable Melbourne Test when JP Duminy and Dale Steyn rescued the Proteas from disaster and put the team into a winning position? Rubbing the sleep from unfocused eyes, we took time to absorb the impact of what we were seeing. Once the miraculous message sank in, our first instinct was to call our nearest and dearest. As the news spread, lights started going on all over the country.

Strong winds in the night had blown off beam the satellite dish of my eldest daughter’s family so they all got into the car and drove several miles to her brother-in law’s house where the entire male household was watching the enthralling cricket. This year such dramas will go largely unwatched.

Even at weekends the busy school sport season will preclude many children from watching much live action either here or in Australia.

Actual attendance at the matches will be well down on the traditional holiday venues of Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. I am sure the television men are not that enthusiastic about the timing of this series with a consequential decline in the value of the television rights.

So why was a change made to a schedule that has operated well ever since the return from the wilderness? The answer lies in a naked bid by Gerald Majola to put the pesky Australians in their place. Notwithstanding a generous compensation agreement with the Aussies, Majola wanted to stage Test matches in South Africa over the holiday season. He ignored the fact that more than twice the number of spectators attended the first day of the Melbourne Test than have gone to the full five days of any Christmas Test at Kingsmead.

More South African viewers watched the last Melbourne Test featuring the Proteas than have watched any Test match staged in South Africa over the festive season. The reason for this is simple. Many South Africans are on holiday at this time of the year and prefer to be doing rather than watching something during daylight hours. So what we have this year is a no-win situation for everyone at a time when the interest in cricket amongst the young is flourishing as never before.

One of the first things the new CSA regime must do is to reschedule the away series with Australia and ensure that both the home and away series consist of at least four matches. This should also be the case for all series against England and India. Making space for the Champions League at the expense of the big test match series has not done cricket any favours.

What then are our young cricketers likely to miss in this November series? Given the absence of class spinners in either side it will be a battle of the fast bowling attacks in which the home side has the advantage of greater depth in contrast to the higher ranked quartet of the South Africans. This means that it is less important for the Aussies to stay injury free than the Proteas, who do not have the same quality and quantity of fast bowlers waiting in the wings.

On the other hand, the Aussies will depend for many of their runs on two batsmen whose careers are deep in their twilight years. The ageing Ponting and Hussey the elder are now more fallible against pace than they have ever been. Furthermore, Warner and Cowan, their two left- handed opening batsmen, are unlikely to cause much loss of sleep to Dale Steyn and his friends.

Shane Watson will be a crucial figure in this series. He will be batting in the important number three position and one can expect him to play the Kallis role for Australia in that his all-round skills give the Aussies a similar balance to the Proteas with one important difference. Watson is likely to do more bowling than Kallis, who is not only older but has recently shown the effects of a very long year.

If Kallis is not able to do much bowling it raises the question about the role of a spinner and in particular that of Imran Tahir who took some valuable wickets in England but was unable to keep one end quiet. Tahir will find bowling hard work both at the Gabba and in Perth. There may well be a case for playing the much improved Robin Petersen at both these venues.

Both the Gabba and Perth pitches, where the first and third Tests will be played, favour fast bowlers. So these are the matches the Proteas must aim to win as Adelaide is likely to present a problem for both pace dependent attacks.

Incidentally, having watched him bat so poorly in the T20 stuff, I no longer think that Tsolekile should play a role in this series. AB will have to keep wicket, bad back and all.

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