Thursday, 6 July 2017

Are test cricketers trying to kill off test cricket?

I only mention this because I spent an hour this afternoon watching the first South Africa v. England Test at Lords's on Sky. No complaint about the entertainment value, especially as first-time England captain Joe Root and vice-captain Ben Stokes were rescuing England after a terrible first session (Gary Ballance is back in the team - just...why?).  Apart from the Ashes, in just about every country apart from England, test cricket is dying as a spectator sport...

...Watch any live test cricket from anywhere else in the world, and the paucity of spectators is heartbreaking for anyone who treats this form of the game as the only one that really matters at international level.

One-Day Internationals and T20 thwackathons can be fun, admittedly - it's great watching the world's top players smashing sixes to every corner of the pitch, and only the crustiest traditionalist won't experience a thrill seeing the Dilshan scoop, the reverse sweep, the ramp, and all the other impertinent shots that the need to score at a frenetic pace has introduced into the short-form versions of the game. But scoring 50 off 25 balls counts for naught when set against a player crawling to 50 off the world's quickest bowlers with a wicket-keeper and five slip-catchers in place waiting for one tiny misjudgement from the batsman (or, if you prefer, with their legs apart, waiting for a tickle) - that's proper cricket.

Okay, I have no desire to return to the '60s, when two runs an over was considered daring, and maiden overs were the order of the day. Three to four runs an over feels like a minimum requirement to keep a multi-tasking ADD audience engaged. But, apart from slow scoring, the other guaranteed way of driving spectators round the twist is for the fielding side to slow things down with endless changes to field placings, long conversations between bowler and captain, the bowler trudging back to his mark as if edging his way through a minefield, lengthy consultations about the state of the ball etc. Some of this sort of nonsense might just about be acceptable during the last session on the last day of a test match, with the result balanced on a knife-edge. But this is the first day of a four-match series and the South Africans are doing their very best to make it as dull as possible for everybody. Granted, they've run our of bowlers and they're trying to fill in a few overs before they can take the new ball - but this is actually painful.

Oh, no - they just got Root out for 149, only for the umpires to discover it was a no-ball. Presumably the South Africans will now begin to play so slowly that time will actually start to reverse.

Do these cricketers not want to play test cricket any more? Are they trying to kill the format off once and for all? Unless the cricketing authorities actually want to ensure that bish-bash-bosh cricket is the only kind played at international level - because it's far more profitable - then they really need to change the rules regarding slow over-rates and to start punishing players and teams by issuing massive fines and awarding penalty runs to the batting side. Even the tennis authorities - among the most supine in the world - have managed to speed up the game by issuing warnings and awarding points against players like Nadal who routinely take over half a minute between one point and the next. If tennis can do it, believe me, so can cricket.

Root is on 168. I am happy.


  1. Yesterday I switched on the evening session of the Lord's test. The Rhodesian Ballance was at the crease for England so of course SA wanted to crowd the bat, but there was a shortage of helmets [no Brian Closes available]so play was held up 5-minutes until somebody at the headquarters of world cricket could locate a bloody helmet. Then Amla and somebody decided to have a discussion so further delays. And the inevitable slow hand-clap started.

    Also, there are hardly any world-class players to watch. For South Africa, de Villiers, Steyne and Faf du Plessis are all at home for various reasons which leaves Amla. Dean Elgar is an enigma. For England, Cook, Broad and Anderson look spent [after sterling careers] which leaves the great Root basically. Why would you spend a fortune to watch these two very mediocre teams? English test venues continue to attract packed houses [ often helped by very large immigrant populations which do not exist in other test playing nations - Pakistan cannot even play at home anymore], but for how much longer?

    The frightening aspect of contemporary cricket is the sheer ineptitude and greed of the administrators at both international and national level. They are a complete shower.

    By the way, thank you for getting through your excellent post without a jibe at de Kock's name or Bavuma's height. A man is not responsible for his nomenclature or stature [unlike his tattoos, shaved head or cartoon beard].

    1. I initially thought South Africa were wise to slip de Kock in higher up during their second innings - but then Moeen Ali got de Kock out, and after that they went limp. Despite that, I hope they decide to elevate de Kock again in the second test.

      As two of the world's greatest sporting geniuses - Lionel Messi and Sachin Tendulkar - are both vertically challenged, I wouldn't dream of making an issue of Bavuma's height (although one commentator couldn't resist pointing out that every ball he receives is basically a bouncer).

      You'll rue the day you made snide remarks about England's splendid vice-captain.