OZ Boxing day fever snubs Proteas

2011-12-22 00:00

CAPE TOWN — There are well over 120 000 reasons why Cricket Australia will not surrender prime Festive Season Test cricket and allow the national side to play in South Africa over that period.

That figure? It is the remarkable, combined tally of spectators expected for days one and two alone of the first Test against India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) from Boxing Day this year.

In these days of uncertainty over the future of the illustrious five-day format, it is a heartening development not just for Australians, but also for all those who cherish Test cricket’s tradition and gravitas.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that a crowd of over 75 000 is anticipated for the first day at the MCG, meaning December 26 in that city remains one of the most lucrative across all formats of the game worldwide for gate takings.

Day two will still reportedly see some 45 000 flock to the huge venue, the lure being not only hopes of a much-needed Aussie revival in the Test arena — now under the coaching command of South African Mickey Arthur — but also an opportunity to bid likely farewell Down Under to ageing Indian batting legends Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and, to a slightly lesser extent, VVS Laxman.

There are four Tests in the keenly-awaited series.

Lucrative Boxing Day and beyond at the MCG, and then the Sydney Cricket Ground over New Year — where the touring Indians will tackle the second Test — are the key reasons why Australian cricket bosses have an impasse with their Cricket South Africa (CSA) counterparts over these great rivals locking horns in the peak holiday season.

It is sad but inevitable, considering that CSA, similarly, are understandably reluctant to ever have the Proteas absent from our shores in this period.

Controversially, the Proteas met the Aussies in a gripping, but criminally short two-Test series a few weeks ago, and are now in the midst of prime-time Test activity against much more moderate Sri Lanka, already clobbered in the first meeting at Centurion.

South Africa tackle the Baggy Greens (over three Tests this time) in their own habitat next summer, but again the big southern hemisphere rivals will go head to head well before the Christmas period — in November and early December.

As a result, holiday time will see Cricket Australia trying to drum up interest in a home series against the Sri Lankans, and CSA also having a tough time, probably, of promoting Festive Seasons clashes between the Proteas and humdrum visitors New Zealand.

Although on a much more humble level financially, Newlands over New Year is roughly South Africa’s “gold mine” equivalent of Boxing Day fever at the MCG, with Capetonians showing a healthy trend for turning out in droves regardless of the calibre of the Test foes.

Unfortunately, the Test slot from December 26 is a more problematic one for CSA: Kingsmead is the most traditional venue for it — as is the case again this year against the Lankans — but South Africa have a strangely poor record there of late, gates are pretty humble and the weather is a perennial drawback as well.

The latter snag looks like intervening again this time. Although day one looks reasonably dry days three and four, particularly, look like being dogged by significant downpours — as much as 52 mm of rain is being tipped in the long-range forecast for next Thursday.

In 2007/08, CSA departed from the norm by shifting the Boxing Day Test to Port Elizabeth, but it was against a West Indies side which were — and remain — in the doldrums, and the public response was also unremarkable, so Kingsmead quickly returned to the roster for that slot.

If the elements do play havoc in Durban, one shaft of light for CSA might be that the series is therefore decided over a bumper New Year in Cape Town, rather than there being the risk of a dead-rubber affair at Newlands.

But at least as far as the fierce SA-Aussie rivalry is concerned, don’t expect a return to combat between them during your precious “relaxation” period any time soon.

The amazing MCG magnet goes a long, long way to precluding that.

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