Farces in Sydney and Cape Town show cricket continues to shoot itself in the foot

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Test cricket suffered in the first weekend of the year.

2018 was the year of Test cricket’s revival. Outstanding bowling displays, closely-fought series between some of the world’s best teams,a dearth of draws, a dominant year for bowlers, and international cricket’s premier batsman simply saying it was the best format, repeatedly, just made it so.

Shame it took six days to ruin it in 2019.

First, in South Africa, where the hosts bowled Pakistan out right at the end of Day 3 of the second Test, and had a target of 41 to chase down. For a good half an hour before that moment, South Africa had been looking to wrap up the Pakistan second innings and end the game the same day, hopefully with an innings win or at worst, with a small target to chase down. They thought they had their chance about 15 minutes earlier, when Vernon Philander seemingly had the final wicket of the Pakistan innings, only for it to be called back for a no-ball.

In the 15 minutes it took between then and the actually fall of the final wicket, South Africa’s mentality changed, and they were happy to wait until the next morning to finish the game.

There were still a good 20 minutes to be played, in bright sunshine, against a demotivated Pakistan bowling attack. 41 in 20 minutes may have been a tall order, but why not go for it, and make everyone’s lives easier?

The umpires, too, chose not to put their feet down – though the extra half hour at the end of the day is a joint decision between them and the relevant captain, South Africa’s Faf du Plessis, and at least in this case they can point to the Proteas’ reluctance, rather than poor decision-making on their part.

Their counterparts in Sydney had no such excuse. With India pushing for a historic series win, a first ever in Australia, on Day 4 of the final Test, the umpires deemed the light not good enough to play. It’s a shame they were playing at a small provincial ground with inadequate lighting, and not, say, Sydney Cricket Ground, with newly-installed floodlights that could probably allow play to happen at midnight, if people were so inclined.

No, wait. This was at the SCG.

The umpires had erred the day before, taking players off for bad light prematurely, and thus setting that as the standard for “bad light” for the rest of the Test.

So India and Australia spent most of the last three hours of the day waiting in their respective dressing rooms for the umpires to decide if the sun would emerge from the clouds, rather than take the logical option of realising that the floodlights would be good enough to play at least a little.

India could have had two spinners operating, in case the umpires thought fast bowling would be too dangerous in the artificial light. The umpires knew that was an option, and chose not to take it.

Meanwhile, thousands of fans who had paid to come watch cricket on the Sunday of a Sydney Test were shortchanged. They could see the floodlights, but had to sit and watch as no cricket was played all afternoon as the umpires chose not to use the tools at their disposal.

For many of those fans, the option of coming back on Monday wasn’t available, for obvious reasons.

Thanks to a recent change in the ICC rules governing playing conditions, the umpires are now allowed to use some amount of personal discretion when making the decision about whether play can happen in these situations. So on-field umpires Richard Kettleborough and Ian Gould, third umpire Marais Erasmus, and match referee Andy Pycroft had the power to make a decision in the best interests of the game being played and the fans in the stadium, and chose not to thanks to an outmoded devotion to rules regarding natural versus artificial light.

There’s no guarantee India would have picked up 10 wickets during the rest of the day, and, ultimately, no play happened on Day 5, either. India had to content themselves with a 2-1 win instead of pushing for a more dominant 3-1 triumph. They celebrated in front of a handful of fans – credit to those who showed up on Monday – instead of something closer to the packed house they had on Sunday.

But there’s no doubting that what happened in Cape Town on Saturday and Sydney on Sunday were farces that did a disservice to cricket. Not the greatest advert for a sport that is already in the middle of a crisis over attracting fans and staying relevant.

Cricket is funny game with at times quirky rules, and sometimes that’s part of the charm. Especially so with Test cricket. But the fact that it can’t understand one simple principle – when people are waiting for you to play, and you can play, just play – means it keeps shooting itself in the foot.

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SA v Pakistan Test Live: Hosts need 41 to win series

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South Africa closed in on a massive win on day three of their second Test against Pakistan at Newlands.

Skipper Faf du Plessis scored a century while Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock hit fifties as South Africa were all-out for 431 early on day three.

Pakistan lost early wickets before Shan Masood and Asad Shafiq hit fifties. Pakistan took tea at 177-3, still trailing by 77 runs, after Masood departed for 61.

However, Pakistan’s innings derailed in the final session as they were reduced to 221-7, still trailing by 33 runs. Some late hitting saw Pakistan reach 294 to set a victory target of 41. However, umpires decided to call stumps due to low visibility.

Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada picked up four wickets each.

Do not miss any of the action from Cape Town by following our ball-by-ball coverage below.

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New Zealand v Sri Lanka: Thisara Perera hits 140 but Kiwis claim ODI series win

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Thisara Perera blazed his way to a maiden international century but could not prevent New Zealand from sealing a one-day series victory.

The Black Caps seemed to be cruising having reduced Sri Lanka to 128 for seven as they pursued 320 to level the series at Mount Maunganui, but Perera’s onslaught gave them a real fright.

The bowling all-rounder was dropped en route to a remarkable 57-ball ton and then again shortly after reaching the milestone, but he was eventually last man out for 140 from 74 deliveries after shovelling Matt Henry to long-on.

Despite his thunderous efforts, the tourists were all out for 298 as they succumbed to a 21-run defeat to the Kiwis, who claimed an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.

Ross Taylor (90) and Colin Munro (87) laid the platform for Jimmy Neesham to propel New Zealand to 319 for seven with a blistering 64 from 37 balls – although all three batsmen plus Tim Seifert were run out.

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