Maybe Durban losing the Boxing Day Test is a good thing

2014-03-01 00:00

WITH the Sharks not in action this weekend, all eyes over the past few days have been firmly on today’s third, final and deciding Test against the Aussies in Cape Town. And rightly so.

The contest between the old rivals has been a glaringly obvious reminder of the superiority that Test cricket still commands over the shorter formats. The ebbs and flows, the wars of attrition, the brutally aggressive contests and the numerous little battles that are deciding who wins the war have all made this one of the more mouth-watering series in recent memory.

A tip of the hat must go to the Port Elizabeth crowd. St George’s Park — brass band and all — was absolutely rocking for four days (yip, it only took four). Clearly knowledgeable, the vocal crowd were delighted at being back in Test cricket’s spotlight once more in what was only their third Test since 2007. The PE faithful have been rewarded for their efforts and Cricket South Africa has given them this year’s Boxing Day Test (BDT) against the West Indies, at the expense of Durban. And while Natalians who turned up for last year’s BDT against India at Kingsmead will be gutted at the decision, they don’t really have reason to be.

Durban has now been given numerous opportunities to become South Africa’s version of the MCG — a permanent venue for Boxing Day cricket — and failed dismally. Around 37 000 people filtered through the Kingsmead gates over the course of five days for what was Jacques Kallis’s final Test. In just four days at St George’s, around 27 000 turned up to watch the Aussies given a hiding. Durban may still win in the attendance bracket, but when one considers that Kingsmead’s capacity is 25 000 and St Gerorge’s is only 17 500, then it helps explain why the atmosphere in PE was more electric than it was in Durban.

PE’s figure would also have been much higher had the match gone into a fifth day. To make matters worse, 13 500 of the overall figure of 37 000 for Durban’s BDT came from day one, when India batted for the entire day. By the time that Kallis — possibly the greatest cricketer that our country has ever seen — strode to the crease for the last time on day three, there were little more than 4 500 people in the stadium.

That moment was one that we should have felt privileged to have on our doorstep, but instead we were content with nursing our festive season hangovers from the comfort of our couches. Durban has not only lost the BDT, but will not host a single Test match this year. In fact, England’s tour to SA from December 2015 to February 2016 appears to be the next time Durban will be considered.

The only way to view this positively is in the hope that being starved of Test cricket will make us hungrier, and that the next time Kingsmead hosts a five dayer we will be gagging for it. That happens sometimes. Take something precious away from somebody, and they soon realise that they’ve taken it for granted. A look at the Lions is a perfect example.

Perennial wooden spoon contenders in Super Rugby, the Gautengers were removed from the competition for a season at the expense of the Kings. That was a tough season, and in watching the other franchises playing on the world stage week in and week out, something started brewing inside of those players, and indeed their fans. The result has been a Lions outfit determined to prove their worth, and they are doing just that.

It may be early days, and fans of the Johannesburg franchise will know better than to count their chickens, but early signs are extremely encouraging.

Maybe a break from the Test arena is just what the doctor ordered for Durbs. Maybe next time it comes a knocking, we will be ready to treat it with more respect so that it doesn’t desert us yet again.

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