Good idea, but Test cricket it was not

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Stuart Hess says Cricket SA should be lauded for the Festival of Cricket initiative, but a Test match it sadly was not. Photo by: Petri Oeschger

It wasn’t the New Year’s Test match and the atmosphere at Newlands felt different … it was, largely, flat.

Cricket South Africa for all the problems they’ve endured over the last eight months as the schedule for the tour by India fell apart, deserve some credit for creating “content” at a venue which always has the best Test attendances.

Vendors at Newlands certainly didn’t do the kind of trade they would have had there been a Test – you could have guaranteed that, had there been a Test, starting on the Friday, January 3, at the very least there would have been sell out crowds for the first three days.

As it was, the only full house over the course of the three days was on Friday, when the Springboks took on the Proteas. Saturday saw the ground only half full and a number of suites especially in the stand at the Kelvin Grove End were shut.

There are very few traditional sports events on the South African calendar. That is largely as a result of the country’s divided past, but the New Year’s Test at Newlands was one such traditional event, well attended, and since South Africa’s return from sporting isolation, one that had provided many great memories.

The Festival of Cricket won’t be providing lasting memories, despite the best intentions of the players, the Springboks and CSA’s administrators. Last Friday night was fun, the ground was packed, the players – both Proteas and Springboks – entered into the fun of the occasion, but it all felt contrived and gimmicky.

As did the North versus South ‘State of Origin’ encounter on Saturday. It was fun, there was an exciting ending and blindingly bright clothing, but it lacked the competitive edge that Test matches of the last 20 years provided.

Both those exhibition-style matches may serve as good charity ventures in future, and perhaps a mix of players from different sporting codes in the teams may also be considered in the years ahead.

While the crowds on the final day on Sunday were poor (the weather didn’t help) – the triple-header RamSlam T20 opening is certainly an idea that has merit and a future. The cricket was competitive, had an edge – it felt like there was something to play for.

It certainly serves as an excellent marketing tool for CSA and the competition’s sponsors. All six teams in three matches on one day and with proper marketing could become as traditional as the New Year’s Test. Whether it will be as lucrative, will be up to the administrators and CSA’s marketing team.

The bigger unions will certainly want to host such an event, but it may be better suited to one of the ‘smaller’ venues, like Kimberly, East London or Paarl.

Providing content and specifically content that is profitable, has been a major challenge for cricket in recent years, and CSA has become very reliant on the national stars to help put bums on seats.

Tests – outside of Cape Town – don’t sell well in South Africa as witnessed by the terrible attendances at the Wanderers and Kingsmead. There aren’t enough ODIs and T20 Internationals to go around, so putting together a, ahem, festival of T20 cricket, like the RamSlam triple-header, is the kind of initiative, utilising the most popular format, that should get those bums on seats.

In the short-term, Cricket SA will in many ways be grateful that the Australians will be here next month and feeling in fine fettle about themselves too.

The sports rivalry between South Africa and Australia runs deeper than SA’s one with India, and that, coupled with the chatter already emerging out of Australia about the “world’s best bowling attack” should boil up sufficient emotion in South Africans to get them to go to the Test grounds. - The Star


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