November 13, 2011
The real story of test cricket has little to do with what was exposed in the newspapers on the morning of day three of the Newlands Test, and has everything to do with us fans – some who’ve challenged the entertainment plausibility of having to watch 450 overs of cricket spanning five days. The articles and reactions to the second day of the Newlands Test were only the meekest ghosts of a summary that the numbers depicted.
The build up to the clash between the Southern Hemisphere’s cricketing giants now seems inadvertent, given the fact that this battle would have given the Anglo-Zanzibar war of 1896 a run for its money. It had taken the British only 45 minutes to overthrow Khalid Bin Bargash, when five warships of the Royal Navy opened fire to commence and complete what would become one of the shortest wars fought in the history of the world.
Just as one began to wonder the chronic consequences of not having played test cricket in over ten months time, the residual effects of which were blatantly vivid during South Africa’s first innings, the landslide that followed painted a bizarre picture on how the art of temperament has gone for a toss, without doubting South Africa’s resilient response and character. It is, in one way, ironic to imagine that the teams that had once been involved in the highest ever run chase in ODI history had to enact a drama that would dubiously place itself at the other end of the spectrum.
The emergence of shorter formats seemed to have stamped its presence when a few Aussie batsmen – the main culprit being Brad Haddin – appeared to have played shots that they’d never want to see replays of. The entertaining form of attacking batsmanship was decisively rejected by the challenge posed by Test Cricket. It would now seem ironic to quote Michael Clarke in the past tense – a common ploy used by many who know that the words of the captain will appear on print post the result – just after the toss when he’d said he would have batted on this wicket.
Australia now finds itself in the middle of a two match series, with many believing that by stating the complexities of an ‘insidious’ wicket, the visitors can hope to bounce back after a break. A large part of Australia’s problems lie within their own camp – from the ineffective, unguided missiles of Mitchell Johnson to the questionable form, but not the class, of Ricky Ponting. To add to this heavy bag of questions exist a very fragile opening pair, whose lack of efflorescence against the moving ball would have undercut the post mortem’s storyline.
Historically, the Australians are believed to be constitutionally averse to strategies adopted by other cricketing nations. If form-based remedies are displaced by class-based remedies, the number of young Australian cricketers staking a claim to play test cricket will fall incredibly. However, the recent trend scripts a contrary story, and rightly so – David Warner’s call up to replace the injured Shaun Marsh adds fuel to this theory.
Mental toughness has always been embedded into the DNA of Australian sport, but for once, ability seems to be posing a colossal question. But knowing the Australians well, they cherish pride and victory way too much to let it slip away – and no one would know that better than the set of men who’ve thrown their hats hoping to fill the vacancy left by Tim Nielsen.
In this process, the other side of the contest has been overlooked. If it probably weren’t for Amla and Smith’s centuries, it is for anyone to guess whether the other South African batsmen would have been found wanting, as they were during the first innings. But debutant Philander’s baptism of fire certainly prevented what otherwise would have been a very unpleasant courtroom featuring the batsmen responsible for a collapse during South Africa’s first innings on home soil during the month of November since 1921.
The Law of Large Numbers states that the result of performing the same experiment a large number of times would yield the expected result. The method adopted by Steyn, Philander and Morkel was to constantly hit the channels on and around off-stump – and the expected results were obtained.
The result has Australia in free fall now. Unlike gravity, a bad result can often push a team to the extremes of possible reactive decision making. There will be a temptation to replace the misfiring Johnson with the young and quick Pat Cummins – but as the late Peter Roebuck wrote in his very recent article: “Ambitious selectors and captains understandably seek players of high potential to replace time-servers, but cricket is also a game of skill, stamina and experience, and it takes time to learn its lessons.”
Sun Tzu’s Art of War states that what the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. Certainly, the South Africans wrapped up the game so. And they’ll look to repeat the same, excluding the first innings debacle, in Johannesburg.