Test cricket still the ultimate challenge

2008-04-16 00:00

We’ve seen two contrasting Test matches over the last two weeks, with the fast bowlers dominating one on Indian soil and the home spinners in command of the second.

It was intriguing watching the guile of the Indian spinners on a turning pitch, causing all sorts of problems for the South African batsmen and testing their techniques.

To be a consistent Test cricketer, it is crucial to have the ability to play under all conditions and on all surfaces. This is what differentiates cricket from other sports, as the various countries expose cricketers to many variables.

One day cricket is in the process of changing these varying demands. For this version of the game, it is essential that the pitches are flat and batsmen-friendly and that the crowd is entertained with plenty of boundaries. The bowlers are less fortunate and are often smashed to all corners.

Of course, Pro 20 cricket has taken it a step further, where proceedings are so brief that there is very little time for the pitch to have any influence on the game, and this levels the playing field for both sides.

Excellent batting pitches are being produced and we have seen an improvement in power-hitting, rather than batting skills.

It is not uncommon to see batsmen who clear their hips without moving their feet, while swinging their enormous bats at every delivery. Cricket bats, like golf equipment, have improved markedly over the last few years. The sweet spot spans virtually the whole blade and even mis-hits are sailing over the boundary.

With so much changing in the modern game, it is comforting to note that the best Test batsmen still make the best one-day players. These are cricketers who have learnt their trade batting properly.

It is very seldom that one sees the likes of Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey and Andrew Symonds swiping at every delivery. They know the options they have on each shot and execute them with precision, rather than relying on a swing and a prayer. They can place the ball over extra cover or midwicket, or look for gaps and run hard, or back themselves to clear the boundary.

Watching the Pro 20 domestic competition in South Africa we see so many batsmen swiping across the line and not making contact on the ball. In Pro 20 cricket, there is little doubt that the team hitting the boundaries is dominating, providing they are not losing wickets. Too often teams are only looking for boundaries and in the process neglect the singles, which remain important in every form of the game.

It’s clear that we have come a long way from Test cricket of old, where batsmen would defend their wicket first and only score runs if there were no risks in doing so.

It was encouraging to see the Dolphins advancing to the Pro 20 series semi-finals. It would be such a boost to the team if, in spite of all the problems they have had off the field, they can pull off a victory in this competition.

Doug Watson, who has not been offered a contract for next season, has returned and held the batting line-up together once again. It would be fitting if he can finish his tenure with the Dolphins on a winning note.

• Neil Johnson, a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder, lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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