Peter Robinson

Mismatches serve little purpose

2005-03-08 08:06

As much as many people may have found the first day of the Newlands Test match a distasteful bore, I have to admit that I found it riveting watching.

How often do you see a collapse as truly horrible as Zimbabwe's first innings? When can you next expect Jacques Kallis to let his hair down at the crease in such extraordinary fashion?

Of course, the second day was pretty tedious. The outcome of the match had already been decided and even Andy Blignaut's slogging failed to match the brute power unleashed by Kallis 24 hours earlier.

A curious thought occurred to me last Friday, though. I was oddly reminded of watching one of the great slasher movies: Pyscho, for example, or Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The point is that the first time you see them, you're invariably shocked and surprised. The second time, though, you know when the man in the mask is going to leap out of a darkened hallway, so if you do admire them as films, it's for their technical expertise.

And who, honestly, would dare to argue that Son of Pyscho or Halloween V or The Return of Leatherface are a patch on the originals?

So it is with Test matches against teams like the current Zimbabwe side.

They're the babysitters of world cricket, doomed to be chopped up into pieces before the first reel ends. And once they've been sliced and diced, you tend to forget about them.

Current woes a temporary lapse

I have to say, though, that I thought the South Africans did just about everything asked of them at Newlands. They went out hard on the first day and if they went off the boil a little on Saturday, well, who could blame them?

South Africa fielded a strong side and while it has been argued that the match was of little value to the home team, I'm inclined to think that players like Graeme Smith, Kallis and AB de Villiers would take their innings out in the middle at Newlands over a week of nets any day.

So what to do about Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and, as things seem to be shaping up, the West Indies as well?

Stripping Zimbabwe of Test status is an option not readily open to the International Cricket Council. Zimbabwe would argue, with some justification, that their current woes are a temporary lapse, and that, given encouragement, they will be competitive again in a few years' time.

Two-tier system

Whether this will be the case, of course, remains to be seen.

The fact is, though, that the gap between the top sides in the world, with Australia disappearing into the distance, continues to widen.

Mismatches serve little purpose and threaten to undermine the viability of Test cricket as a product. How much longer will the television companies be prepared to finance fare that clearly has little appeal to the viewing public?

Perhaps the way forward in the short term is to look at a two-tier system with the top six or eight teams playing each other more frequently and the bottom sides joining the likes of Kenya and the best of the rest in a second division.

There would need to be some cross-pollination, with the possibility of promotion (and relegation) there to give Test cricket an edge, but the fact is that as of this moment, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have as much appeal as a party political congress.

One other option mooted has been the idea of a type of super league, with the best players in the world representing franchise teams: Sydney, say, versus Bombay or Johannesburg. Would it work?

Would the South African public, for example, be willing to cheer on Shane Warne? I think we're some way away from this at the moment, but what is clear is that the current system is unsustainable.

Inadvertently Zimbabwe may have brought international cricket to a watershed moment. Whether they will be happy with what comes out of it, though, seems unlikely.

Send your comments to Peter or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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