Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Excitement Of Test Cricket - So Where Is Everyone?

By Shane Thomas

Today provided us with arguably the most madcap day of Test cricket in 2011. Day 2 of the 1st Test between Australia and South Africa in Cape Town gave us a section of all four innings of play. The day started with Australia on 214/8, with them eventually being all out for 284, inspired by a superb knock of 151 from Michael Clarke.

At this point in the match, sanity went on holiday. South Africa came to the crease to begin their riposte and were promptly bowled out for a paltry 96, with Shane Watson going through the Proteas bating line-up like the proverbial dose of salts, taking 5 for 17 off only 20 deliveries. But whatever the Aussie bowlers can do...

As Australia began their 2nd innings, with a comfortable lead of 188, their batting imploded. Making his Test-Match debut, Vernon Philander - who South Africa think highly enough off to give him the new ball ahead of Morne Morkel - also got in amongst the wickets, taking a "five-fer" of his own. Australia went from a dire 18/6 to a desperate 21/9. Only a last wicket stand from Peter Siddle & Nathan Lyon prevented them posting the lowest ever total in this format of the game. 

They scrambled to 47 before Dale Steyn brought the innings to a close in under 18 overs - their fourth lowest score in the lengthy history of Test cricket. South Africa wrenched back the momentum, needing 236 to win an extraordinary match, reaching the close of play at 81/1.

What a day, four innings over the six hours, with 23 wickets falling. These are the kind of figures that the watching fans will never forget. 

Which brings me to the most saddening thing about Day 2. Look behind the celebrating South African players, what do you see? Empty seats, lots of empty seats. The Newlands Stadium was sparsely populated, with gaps all around the ground where fans should have been sitting. With the exception of England (and maybe Australia), Test cricket is becoming an endangered sporting format. And like the infamous George Berkeley question about a tree falling in the forest, do these quixotic sporting days count for much if people aren't there to view them?

- London go head-to-head with Doha tomorrow at the IAAF Council, to decide which city gets to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships. The domestic press say that this will determine whether Qatar are now a nation that can host any major sporting event on a whim. Many are still angered by the Arab state winning the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, and worry that the country's financial muscle can make major sporting organisations fall over themselves to have the "honour" to stage their events there.

While these are all valid concerns, I wonder if the media would be so outraged if we didn't have such a vested interest. A large portion of the disgust at Qatar hosting the World Cup in 11 years time was borne from the frustration at England being made to look foolish in the bid to host the 2018 tournament. And if Doha win tomorrow, there's no doubt it will result in similar media opprobrium. But would that still be the case if Doha were competing against a city like Copenhagen rather than London?

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