Test cricket, while seemingly thriving in some parts, is in danger of becoming a three-horse race says David Moseley.
There’s a reason why soccer (or football, if you prefer) is labeled the “global game”. It’s not because Fifa has some 207 national teams listed in its global rankings (though that does help) but rather, because on any day, any nation in the top 30 could give the top-ranked Spain a run for their money. Compared to rugby and Test cricket, soccer results are not always as cut-and-dried as they are before teams even take to the field.
Take the current top eight soccer teams in the Fifa rankings – if Spain were to take on either of Germany (ranked 2), Argentina (3), the Netherlands (8), even the 18th-ranked Brazil, no soccer fan would dream of saying, “ah, should be a doddle for the World Champs, then”. Brazil play sixth-placed England this week in fact. Who’s your money on – easy, Brazil, even though they’re 12 spots adrift of top 10 England.
Now look at Test cricket. South Africa holds the number one position, England sit at two and Australia nest at three. Pakistan, just demolished by the Proteas, are in fourth spot, India are at five, then comes Sri Lanka, then the West Indies, with New Zealand and Bangladesh bringing up the rear.
At present, you would expect only England and Australia (both recently beaten in their own backyards by South Africa) to give the Proteas a hard time on South African soil. If the just-completed Test against Pakistan at the Wanderers is anything to go by, then South Africa should enjoy another Test series win by day four of the Newlands Test (and I only say that because I’m hoping my day three tickets remain relevant).
Pakistan’s Test record is so poor in South Africa (played 10, lost 7, won 2 – including the most recent Test) that no one really expected the world class Proteas to struggle and, despite a first innings batting wobble, they duly obliged the Wanderers crowd with a thumping win.
India, seemingly on such an upward curve in all formats of the game under Gary Kirsten, appear to be in a shocking Test slump (they were walloped away by England 4-0 in 2011 and lost the “return” series in India last year 2-1 – also four Tests). From an outsider’s perspective it also feels like they’re concerned only with the shorter versions of the game.
You sense that the West Indies are slowly getting their act together, but they’ve never won a Test series in South Africa, and you wouldn’t expect them to do so in the next five years. Based on current evidence, New Zealand will probably never win a Test match in South Africa again, and if we lose to Bangladesh in the next 10 years it will because the world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, overrun by the walking dead and insurance salesmen.
The death of Test cricket has long been predicted. But now it looks more like ODIs will suffer thanks to the proliferation of T20 cricket. However, to keep things interesting the Test-playing nations outside of the top three need to pull up their socks. There’s no question that the Proteas are the dominant force in Test cricket right now, something all South African cricket fans are lapping up. But three and four day Tests stop being fun after a while. After all, we go to watch a contest, don’t we?
While it was great sitting at Newlands on January 2nd watching Vernon Philander destroy New Zealand in the first 45 minutes, at the back of your mind you were still saying “but it’s only New Zealand”. We expected that kind of result as much as we expected a comfortable Proteas win at the Wanderers this past weekend.
What really needs to happen, for the sake of Test cricket, is for Pakistan to bounce back and make a fight of this series. Despite their incredible thumping of England last year, Pakistan need to show that they can play that kind of cricket away from their away-home of the UAE.
The Proteas next Test series is against Pakistan away followed by India away (this after South Africa’s tour to Sri Lanka* this year was postponed until 2015). Both are demanding tours (on paper) that the home sides need to win to keep Test cricket intriguing.
*Thanks Ant Sims for spotting the changed tour schedule.