Time for a re-think

2010-01-16 00:00

WHATEVER the result at the Wanderers it’s been a cracking and instructive campaign. Far from being ready for the graveyard, Test cricket is alive and capable of casting a spell. Furthermore, South Africa still do not attack enough, keep setting impossible targets and then gnashing their teeth as opponents hang on. Evidently, too, the Proteas are slipping as the bowling falls back and the supply of black Test cricketers runs out. Still, Makhaya Ntini was patronised in his early days so maybe another of his ilk will emerge from the slowly swelling ranks.

Not so long ago Test cricket was regarded as on its last legs. Everyone except connoisseurs had become infatuated with the razzamatazz of 20-over cricket. Stadiums were empty, matches were dull, teams were uneven and the world was rushing by. A new generation had been born, it was suggested, that had no time for these sorts of long-winded capers. Apparently it was too busy with fast cars, sex and parties, things unknown to their predecessors. Oh the vanities of youth! Actually it’s amazing they have time for anything except smsing. My lot walk around shops in some sort of trance, with cellphones at eye level.

Test cricket will endure because, like movies, newspapers, family life and, alas, royalty, it has substance. This series has been an epic. Meanwhile Australia have been challenged by Pakistan and West Indies. These improving teams have played bright cricket and produced the gifted youngsters needed to keep games alive. South Africa has not yet clapped eyes on Kemar Roach and Mohammad Aamer. Suffice it to say both bowl at over 150 km/h. Hardly anything is more likely to delight dulled cricketing wits than the emergence of pacemen able to deliver thunderbolts. Cricket had been tranquilised. An emaciated life is not life at all. Africa knows it. Most of the rest have forgotten.

South Africa have only themselves to blame for their predicament. Graeme Smith cannot keep setting targets of 450 and then tearing his hair out as opponents escape with their last pair at the wicket. Like Ricky Ponting, he needs to give his bowlers as much time as possible to take 10 wickets. Lacking a top-class spinner, and without front-line swing bowlers, the Proteas rely on aggressive and persistent pace bowling. All the more reason to declare early and take the chance. Instead Smith is sending a downcast message to his flingers — he does not think they are good enough to dismiss England for under 450 in the fourth innings of a Test match. Pessimism has a power of its own.

South Africa’s inability to win the series ought to cause consternation. England are worthy and stubborn opponents, but lack class. Smith’s side has had the edge, but weaknesses have been exposed, and not only in the bowling.

A handful of senior players have held the team together. Technical flaws have been exposed and accomplished players have been obliged to review their games. For years batsmen have been having fun hitting through the line, but the moving ball forces them to play later and straighter. Kallis survives every examination because he has complete command of the basics, an attribute that attracts less attention these days. It’s a timeless quality that sets the best apart and reminds all and sundry of the very purpose of Test cricket. It’s an examination not a celebration.

A lot can be told concerning South Africa’s state of mind from the palaver about ball tampering. Doubtless the Poms are up to something. Almost always they are up to something. Not long ago they rubbed mint lozenge on the ball on the grounds that a partly sticky surface encouraged swing. One day several Murray mints fell out of Marcus Trescothick’s pocket and a commentator observed that they had all sorts of uses. And he seemed such an innocent boy! Maybe something better has been discovered. Bowlers have always had their tricks.

Much the most disturbing aspect of the current contention is the varied responses to similar offences committed by different teams. It’s not so long ago that reverse swing was regarded as an underhand dealing typical of the Pakistanis. Nowadays it is part and parcel of the game. Hansie Cronje’s treading on the ball was brushed aside as out of character (wrongly as it turned out). Plain and simple it was ball tampering. More recently a West Indian player was punished more severely than two Australians involved in the same handbag waving. Consistency is crucial in such a diverse and emotive game.

However, the South Africans are asking the wrong question. It’s not “why is the ball moving?”, but “ why are we missing it?” Distractions and excuses need to be eliminated so that problems can be confronted.


Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.