Cape Town – Nobody wants to reach a final by default.
They may seem obvious words from former Proteas coach and one-day international player Eric Simons, but they needed to be said anyway.
The SuperSport pundit was speaking in the immediate lead-up to Thursday’s intended Ram Slam T20 Challenge semi-final between the Dolphins and Cape Cobras at Kingsmead – even as it was already becoming painfully obvious that the weather hoodoo would strike again.
The match was duly called off as persistent rain took another depressing toll on the Durban cricket public, not to mention those wishing to see the televised action countrywide, and the hosts shifted onward to the final by virtue of marginally higher log position.
It meant the sixth time in 11 intended matches this season that the KwaZulu-Natalians – the vast majority of them at their headquarters – have featured in either abandoned or non-starting fixtures.
In fairness to them, we will never know whether the Dolphins would have been truly worthy home semi-finalists, so often were they inactive and having to bank split log points; they did win three of five round-robin games able to be completed.
But it would be a slightly embarrassing statistic all the same, and through no fault of their own, if they go on to topple the imperious Titans in Saturday’s SuperSport Park showpiece (18:00) to finish with a win percentage from 12 scheduled games of 33.3 percent.
Small mercy: the weather forecast, touch wood, for Centurion is very promising for an uninterrupted match despite it being the height of thunderstorm season on the Highveld which brings its own cricketing challenges.
Sensibly, a reserve day (Sunday, a 14:30 start) has been scheduled for the final anyway, doubling the chance of the title being settled in orthodox fashion between the combatants.
But if there is a lesson going forward, from the unsatisfactory events this season, it is that both earlier knockout matches should also have reserve days rostered to ensure better legitimacy and satisfaction to the competition – a situation that should apply to the other major limited-overs one, the Momentum One Day Cup, too.
That applies especially glaringly to Kingsmead, traditionally the most vulnerable venue in the country because of its prolific summer rainfall and so extraordinarily jinxed this season.
It was already looking apparent very early in the week that Thursday’s semi would be rain-affected, raising the question of why Friday couldn’t have been set aside as additional “cover” for a contest – at the time of writing, that day was looking infinitely better from a dryness point of view in Durban as well.
There would have been worse crimes, even if the final had to stay a Saturday affair, for the winners of a Friday semi to make the short flight afterwards to the Highveld for the showpiece, even if some element of tiredness would have been in play for the side playing the Titans.
In England, after all, the domestic T20 competition has traditionally had a seemingly popular “finals day” at a long pre-arranged neutral venue, where all three knockout matches are played over a period from morning to night and before a bumper crowd.
What would be the harm in creating that environment in South Africa … and also taking the pure common-sense step of ensuring that it is at a ground (the major Cape venues of Newlands and St George’s Park come to mind) where summer weather is usually the most settled by far?
In the old days, regardless of who the contestants were, the final of South African one-day competitions like the former Nissan Shield used to be played automatically at the Wanderers, so it is not as if a precedent is lacking.
It seems well worth CSA discussing more seriously the possibility of either turning the Bullring back into some sort of Lord’s-type focal point for domestic finals, or even the appealing prospect of Newlands, where interruptions in mid-summer are few and far between and spectator interest in the game as a whole is arguably better than anywhere else nationwide.
An annual rotational policy over the final(s) venue could also be implemented, especially if competitions are played at slightly differing times of the season every year, potentially making weather-related issues less of a concern in some places.
Remember that the current Ram Slam T20 Challenge wasn’t initially earmarked for this pre-Christmas slot, only seizing it after the Global League cancellation fiasco.
Heck, it might even bring Kingsmead into the picture as a showpiece host …
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