Cape Town: The Five Day Test Strikes Back

Extraordinary finish.  If the advocates of four day Test cricket are feeling a bit stupid right now, it’s because their idea was stupid, is stupid, and they deserve calling out on it at every single opportunity.

Yes, England won this match, but that’s not remotely the point and never was.  Throughout this final day the twists and turns, the likelihood of South Africa heroically batting out a draw or England grabbing the needed wickets captured the attention, not because of hopes for one side or the other, but because it was the very essence of Test cricket.  There is simply nothing like the countdown of overs on the final day of a closely fought match, where the desperation of the batsmen to stay in or the bowlers to make the breakthrough turn the sometimes sluggish pace of Test cricket into a riveting gladiatorial contest.  England winning is irrelevant to the wider point – had South Africa clung on for another 8 overs, it would have been every bit as special.

It’s not that every game is like this, or even that it can be like this.  It’s that removing the possibility of the game reaching the extraordinary heights of which it’s capable is nothing short of epic vandalism from people who ought to know better.  Football has plenty of 0-0 draws, rugby has penalty-fests, but the value of extraordinary sport is in the mundane as much as the exceptional, for without the routine you cannot identify the special.

The memories of this day will be off Ben Stokes dragging England over the line through sheer force of will, ripping apart the tail in the final session.  Zak Crawley’s superb reaction catch to dismiss Anrich Nortje at the second attempt.  Quinton de Kock looking entirely at ease before a shockingly executed shot that opened the door for England to force their way through.  Vignettes of play linger, far more than the individual procession of what happened and when, and it requires the first four days in order to generate the circumstances whereby this can happen.  Stokes himself passionately defended the five day game in his interview afterwards to cheers from those present, and more cheers from those around the world watching.

If it sounds like a love letter to Test cricket, then it’s because it is.  There is nothing wrong with it that requires major surgery to the playing conditions.  It’s not to say there aren’t things that can be done to protect and nurture the game, nor that innovation shouldn’t be considered and implemented if it helps both the popularity and, most important of all, respects the way the game is played and any effect on it.  Day/night Test matches may not be something that appeals to everyone, but it doesn’t fundamentally alter the sport itself in the way that amputating 20% of the play does, the way removing the drama of a pitch deteriorating on a daily basis over the full length of the game does.

Add in to that the pacing, whereby a match has space for Dom Sibley to score a patient, disciplined hundred, for Ben Stokes to tee off in pursuit of a declaration, or for Rassie Van Der Dussen to score a mere 17 runs, but over such a length of time and with such skill that so nearly got his team to a precious share of the spoils.

And let’s remember the crowd.  The Barmy Army, all too often the subject of criticism from those sat in front of their televisions, or watching in the ground and having got in for free, they play a part in ensuring the match is played in a lively, and ultimately raucous atmosphere.  They aren’t beyond reproach, they can be annoying to sit next to, but they also spend vast amounts of their own money supporting the team all around the world, and making a material difference to local economies wherever they go.  Those who travel in huge numbers who aren’t part of the Barmy Army, but who travel across the world to do the same thing.  England cricket fans who follow the team are a special breed, and they deserve days like these as much as anyone.

Cricket needs moments that raise it above and beyond the routine.  T20 has its place, and as a means of growing and developing the game it is the ideal vehicle.  But it cannot and must not be the only form viable to those who want to inhabit the game, who want to live the sport, get deep inside it and appreciate every facet of it.

South Africa played more than their part in making this a day of defence of the highest part of the game, they acted as ambassadors for the game of cricket.  The flaws in the international game, and in these two teams are evident, but today it doesn’t matter, for it was nothing more than a response by 22 cricketers to those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.  The weaknesses of the two sides can be saved for another day, for right now what matters is the game, the sport, the very existence of and justification of Test cricket.

Test cricket is priceless.  It showed it yet again today.

35 thoughts on “Cape Town: The Five Day Test Strikes Back

  1. nonoxcol Jan 7, 2020 / 4:50 pm

    Nothing to add, except that it might be an appropriate moment to mention the last Test I watched live on TV. It was on the same ground, and it concluded what was a contender for the second-best three-Test series of my lifetime (assuming everyone agrees that the best was India v Australia 2000-01 and if they don’t I demand to know why!).

    https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/11812/scorecard/648677/south-africa-vs-australia-3rd-test-australia-tour-of-south-africa-2013-14

    The two previous matches ended on day four. This match was settled on day five, after 93.3 overs in which only 194 runs were scored and one of the fastest Test batsmen of our lifetimes made 43 off 228 balls in five and a half hours (even JP Duminy lasted two and a half!). There were 4.3 overs remaining. It was Graeme Smith’s last Test and only the second series his side lost in 26 (both at home to Australia).

    The whole series was full of truly magnificent Test cricket. And if four days had been mandated, the decider would have been a damp squib.

    I have no time whatsoever for the advocates of four-day Tests and will give up following the sport if it is ever mandated.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mark Jan 7, 2020 / 5:25 pm

    Sometimes there is no justice in life. While Englands players deserve their victory…… their gutless, cowardly governing body deserves nothing.but ridicule. Including the morons in the media who regurgitate ECB talking points.

    In what way will Test cricket be made better by four days Mr Shinny toy? Not money saved, but spectacle improved? This match would have been a boring draw. Stop vomiting bullshiit from people who don’t care about test cricket, and hate their own customers.

    However, it’s time for the players to speak out like the Captain of India. Failure to do so will be seen by many as either cowardice, or tacit agreement with the meddlers, and price of everything, and value of nothing brigade.

    Once again, fuck the ECB, and all who sail in this rotten, selfish,greedy and cretinous organisation.

    Like

    • thelegglance Jan 7, 2020 / 5:27 pm

      Stokes very publicly did. Root did too, and at least had the grace to look suitably embarrassed by his previous comments. And given they’d come out on the wrong side of the result, credit to Faf Du Plessis for making his support for five days Tests very clear.

      Like

      • Mark Jan 7, 2020 / 5:42 pm

        Good I’m glad to hear that. This is a welcome sign they maybe the idiots at ECB towers have over reached. Players need to stand firm against these killjoys.

        It also means Shinny Toy is now in disagreement with major England players on this issue. How sad to see one of England’s great captains reputation pissed away for a few sound bites?

        All major people at the ECB, and cricket media should be asked under oath …”Are you now, or have you ever been a supporter of four day test cricket?”

        Like

        • thelegglance Jan 7, 2020 / 5:52 pm

          Stokes chose his man of the match award to make the case – it couldn’t have been more pointed: “Games like these is why five day cricket should always be around. It’s the best form of the game”.

          Incidentally, while Nasser Hussain has been vocally opposed to 4 day Tests, he went off on one after the end of play – really strongly attacking the people who had proposed it. Clearly and visibly angry.

          Like

          • Mark Jan 7, 2020 / 6:09 pm

            Now KP has long since retired there is no reason for good cricket people in the media to keep appeasing the governing body.

            Like

  3. simpsonlong1 Jan 7, 2020 / 6:00 pm

    Let us hope that the cretins, yes that is you Michael Vaughan, who have suggested four day Tests now go and sit in a corner and eat worms. This was a wonderful test. part of me was hoping that SA would cling on just to make it even more exciting, but it was totally absorbing. I was lucky to be home and on my own for the whole five days and able to watch it.

    I have come to the conclusion that part of the joy, if it can be described as such, of following England play cricket is that you never know who is going to turn up each day and how they are going to play. Sometimes I long for reliability but perhaps a roller coaster is more exciting?

    As always, Chris, you sum everything up beautifully

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Metatone Jan 8, 2020 / 9:54 am

    I only followed via reports – but my impression is Root actually captained ok this time around? Or was it just luck… anyone able to watch more have views?

    Like

    • thelegglance Jan 8, 2020 / 9:58 am

      Yes, he was pretty good. Still had lots of boundary riders in the first half of the day, but that seems to be what more or less everyone does these days. I guess you can argue that they’re trying to strangle the batsmen and increase pressure by denying runs – even in those circumstances.

      But he handled his bowlers pretty well and rotated them around nicely. He can pleased with how he captained the side for sure.

      Like

    • Northern Light Jan 8, 2020 / 11:00 am

      He’s clearly still feeling the pressure, given the desperation in some quarters to give him credit for the Broad/Anderson leg slip catch field change which was thought up by and executed by…er….Broad.
      “But Root had to OK it!” say his fans.

      Like

      • thelegglance Jan 8, 2020 / 11:04 am

        In fairness, the captain gets blamed if Broad or Anderson decide to bowl at the 7th stump half way down the track (even when it’s clear Root is raging about it), so it’s not totally unreasonable that the same rule should apply for something that works.

        Like

        • pktroll (@pktroll) Jan 8, 2020 / 11:28 am

          That Broad had a decent game and Anderson had a very good game doesn’t detract that you do get the impression that they are really rather awkward people to manage, whether they get results or otherwise.

          That Archer was out for this test meant that the idea of breaking them up didn’t come to pass for this match. It is possible that Anderson may miss the next game as he has a side injury apparently.

          Like

          • thelegglance Jan 8, 2020 / 11:30 am

            I’d be amazed if they weren’t monumental pains in the arse!

            Like

      • dlpthomas Jan 8, 2020 / 3:45 pm

        Broad said after the game the plane was to put in the leg slip and then bowl outside off but he got his line “wrong by about 3 feet”. It was quite funny.

        Like

      • nonoxcol Jan 10, 2020 / 10:39 am

        Hello Northern Light. Several months ago you asked for a link to my blog, so here it is, finally in the public domain:

        https://50foothead.blog/

        It’s (almost) all about long walks and mental health – check out the menu (top right) and see if you find anything you like.

        Cheers

        Nonoxcol

        Like

  5. nonoxcol Jan 8, 2020 / 12:25 pm

    Oh joy of joys…

    Some judicious stuff in the replies, as you might imagine.

    Like

    • thelegglance Jan 8, 2020 / 12:27 pm

      Basic tenet of journalism – if the headline is a question, the answer is usually no.

      Like

      • Mark Jan 8, 2020 / 5:54 pm

        “The best Evvva” is the go to meme the media lazily falls back onto to get clicks.

        Pointless question.

        Was The Duke of Wellington better than Field Marshal Montgomery? Text us, email us, tweet us,send it by carrier pegeon. We really want to know what you think because we are smug media types with shallow agendas.

        Was Captain Cook a better sailor than lord Nelson?

        Brighton or Blackpool as the best seaside town?

        Never have so many questions been asked, by so few, for so many idiots. Nobody gives a shit. Except the kind of pleb that responds to this crap.

        I have always hated…..pub bores with pick you best ever team……your best ever England Test side? Your best ever football World Cup squad? Your best ever Premier league eleven? Why? What is the point? Sport is for what is available at a particular time in history. Why debate a pointless argument that is impossible to find a conclusion?

        Howling at the moon is more productive.

        Like

        • thelegglance Jan 8, 2020 / 6:00 pm

          Cook was definitely a better sailor than Nelson, who was merely competent in that regard. His brilliance was in strategy and command rather than seamanship.

          What? You did ask! 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • Quebecer Jan 8, 2020 / 7:38 pm

            Cook was primarily a great cartographer and navigator though.

            Like

          • Northern Light Jan 8, 2020 / 8:42 pm

            Nelson learned to sail around the little creeks and inlets by the Norfolk coast right next to where I grew up. He’d have been a deft man on a tiller and well versed in the problems of crosswinds and running against the tide.
            Cook on the other hand was a competent left hander who made the most of limited talent and broke records simply by hanging around longer than anyone else.

            What? Oh.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Mark Jan 8, 2020 / 8:50 pm

            I’m Gobsmacked!!

            I thought Captain Cook scored a lot of runs opening the batting for England, and went to Bedford school. I had no idea he was an expert sailor!!

            Like I said….you would be better off howling at the moon!! 😉

            Like

          • Mark Jan 8, 2020 / 8:54 pm

            Believe it or not I wrote this before I saw Northern lights response. It was such an open goal.

            Liked by 1 person

          • quebecer Jan 9, 2020 / 2:54 am

            Oh, and Nelson shouldn’t be called Nelson.

            Like

  6. Mark Jan 9, 2020 / 9:39 pm

    Meanwhile back in the real world this from cricinfo….

    “The ECB have announced that the majority of adult tickets for the Hundred will be priced at £30 or less in an attempt to boost attendances, with under-16s tickets available at £5 each and children under five admitted for free.

    “While there is some level of discrepancy depending on venue and timing, the competition’s managing director Sanjay Patel stressed that the ECB had “put families at the heart of our ticket pricing for the Hundred”, with some tickets cheaper for the new tournament than for Vitality Blast games at the same venues.”

    Hmm……They are almost giving them away to ensure full stadiums. Funny how they never try that with Test matches.

    Like

    • dArthez Jan 10, 2020 / 9:18 am

      Actually they do. Compare ticket prices in Cape Town and Lord’s, and you’ll realise it is cheaper to fly to South Africa to follow an England tour abroad (including accommodation and meals), than it is to attend all days of a series in England.

      Still 30 pounds for an adult (x2) + two children is 70 pounds. For 2.5 hours of ‘cricket’ (I use the term loosely here). That hardly sounds like a bargain, and I am confident that will effectively lock out many people who don’t have that kind of disposable income to spend on a whim.
      When I attended a Champions League game in South Africa, the tickets were about 8 pounds per person. And I got to see Kohli bat (and some other quality players too, from India and South Africa). Superstars from all over the world, while the Hundred can’t even manage to get the domestic stars to feature in the competition.

      Also, really not sure if parents actually want to take under-5s, since there will be family friendly ‘boozing’, since that is how the franchises are supposed to make their money …

      Would it not have made more sense to restrict people to buying a limited number of tickets a season? Spread the game, spread the love, etc? How many unique attendees have there been to professional cricket games in England, compared to the overall number of tickets sold? Yes, the number will be substantial, but not as impressive as the ECB make it out to be (like they tried with the numbers last year, but failed to factor in that they basically added 25 days extra worth of international cricket to the domestic calendar, and due to the nature of the fixtures, also drew attendance from massively marginalised communities, as per the Hundred’s own research (!; the 95% white statistic), who had practically been starved of attending games by various things, including ECB incompetence).

      Like

  7. dlpthomas Jan 10, 2020 / 10:51 am

    There a few people in the media arguing that this was Root’s best performance as captain but I wonder if he is getting too much credit.

    His captaincy was OK but surely the key was that Sibley, Stokes and Anderson all had an excellent game. It was Stokes idea to attack on the 4th day to give them a chance for an early declaration and it was Stokes who bowled a superb spell at the end of day 5. Even Anderson’s catch down the leg-side of van der Dussen had nothing to do with Root – it was Broad’s idea and then he got his line wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • quebecer Jan 10, 2020 / 5:12 pm

      In all fairness (and totally accepting Root isn’t exactly the best captain ever), it’s an awful lot harder to look like a decent captain when you’ve got a weak side. When your batting is so flawed, you don’t have a decent spinner, are leading an unbalanced and ever changing side, you need to be a pretty special leader to not look rubbish.

      Heck, Faf is a good captain, but when you’re leading a side that struggles to get 300, it’s tough.

      Like

      • dlpthomas Jan 11, 2020 / 12:57 am

        I think that’s spot on. I’ve always thought the secret to being a good captain is to have a good side.

        Like

      • dArthez Jan 11, 2020 / 4:44 am

        If you got a weak side, then you have to instil a bit of discipline, and in the case of batsmen that means leaving less than enough space for a Death star to bowl you through the gate. Hence Bairstow’s continued selection for all that time is a sign of a weak captain. But even after being dropped and not having worked on his technique whatsoever, who gets back after one injury hits?

        Likewise, he would have an extremely good case to insist on getting an actual wicketkeeper batsman, rather than a batsman-butterfingers. That is something he can and ought to have discussed many a time with the selectors. There is no evidence whatsoever that that has happened. In fact, he’d rather let the death star in, on the evidence of Foakes’ shoddy treatment.

        His post-match interviews remain cringeworthy then. And I am sure I could go on.

        Undoubtedly there are more examples.

        Faf is a bit overrated in the captaincy department too. Look at when Sri Lanka visited, and you’ll see some extremely bad captaincy. Not just the Kusal Perera cameo, but also his determination to get to 50 before SA were all out, rather than trying to protect the tail in the following Test.

        Like

  8. dlpthomas Jan 14, 2020 / 7:34 am

    Scyld Berry claims that Wood has been picked ahead of Archer because “England’s coaching staff have been highly impressed by Wood’s attitude, particularly in the last two net-sessions at St George’s Park.” Seems like a bit of a gamble to me.

    Like

    • Marek Jan 14, 2020 / 9:46 pm

      [bangs head on table]

      The official line is that they’re both fit to play. So it’s a no-brainer, surely:

      In the red corner you have the consistently fastest, most exciting bowling prospect England have had for….20 years? 25 years? since Frank Tyson? Natural athlete in the sense that he can regularly bowl over 90 mph without looking like he’s even over-exerting himself, 24 years old, only played 7 tests. Whose speed has sometimes troubled even the world’s top batsmen over those seven tests.

      In the blue corner you have a 30-year-old who’s managed the grand total of 13 Tests in five years (and fewer f-c matches than Sam Curran, eight years his junior), including the even grander total of five in the last four years, in four different series. Who’s never played more than two tests in a row, mainly because even when he plays two in a row he risks breaking down for six months or bowling at 84 mph by halfway through the second one. Who sometimes looks like he’s bursting every sinew in order to bowl over 90. Who hasn’t played a competitive game for six months, a f-c match in eleven, and who’s played two f-c matches since the end of the 2018 English season. Who may bowl faster at his fastest than the red man, by a couple of tenths of a mile an hour, but absolutely can’t match the regularity of his extremely high, effortless pace–as he himself admits.

      You go for the blue man obviously.

      [weeps silently, noticing a report from a few hours later pointing out that England may now be having cause to regret the somewhat cavalier way they sometimes treated one of their important bowlers…]

      Now which franchise was it that we want Jofra Archer to be playing for during the next Ashes, Melbourne Stars or Perth Scorchers?

      (And for that matter, do we want Mark Wood to be entering his fourth or fifth month of rehab when the World T20 starts in October?)

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Marek Jan 14, 2020 / 3:55 pm

    Meanwhile, back at the ICC meeting, anything the ECB can do funkily in the way of formatting, the PCB can do better.

    Hats off to Wasim Khan and co for resuscitating a much missed format from 2002: a test series with a ODI in the middle (although the original incarnation, as far as I remember, didn’t have the cherry on the cake that is the Tests having a two-month gap and an entire franchise competition between them..:)

    Now that’s thinking outside the box to get round a difficulty!

    Like

    • dArthez Jan 14, 2020 / 9:19 pm

      The ECB will do one better. Permanent series against India and Australia, with the occasional warmup versus Ireland / whoever has done the master’s bidding in between, staged in 3 countries.

      Because the fans want it.

      Like

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