October 31, 2012

Back to the five-day stuff. Yawn

T20 can be a pain but at least it's over quickly

The autumn cricket schedule is packed tighter than Rush Limbaugh and Chris Christie in phone booth. It seems like every day there's another pair of polyester-clad captains shuffling out to the middle to throw a bit of currency into the air. And yet, I can't remember the last time I watched a Test match. That's either because there hasn't been one for a while, or because the last time I watched a Test match, I wasn't entirely conscious.

It's not that shorter games of cricket are always edge-of-the sofa affairs. Sunday's Champions League slog-off was the most one-sided public encounter since I challenged Keira Knightley to an arm-wrestling contest*. But even when T20 games are one-sided, they are at least over quickly, like having a loose tooth pulled, whereas a dull Test match can be like week-long root canal surgery with only David Gower's voice for anaesthetic.

The big day was a bust mainly because the Lions of the Highveld could not get over their child-like fascination with hitting the ball straight up in the air. Neil McKenzie fell that way, as did Quinton De Kock, who henceforth shall be known as Half-Kock. He flailed one down to third man and strolled off to the sound of "Let Me Entertain You", apparently oblivious to the irony.

Having demonstrated their virtuosity in the field of vertical batsmanship, the Lions then set themselves the challenge of making Nathan McCullum appear unplayable. When a puzzled looking Sohail Tanvir trudged off at 32 for 5, it was mission accomplished.

Often in life, when you've dug yourself into a hole, it's best to lay down your spade. But T20 is different. If aimless swishing gets you into a mess, then aimless swishing is often the only way out of it, and thanks to some late heaves from Symes, the Lions were able to pretend that their particular hole was in fact a fashionable subterranean hideaway.

Unfortunately the home side were ultimately undone by the new T20 playing regulations requiring the ball to be replaced with a bar of soap for the second innings. First Gulam Bodi struggled to cling on to the slippery blighter, and then a few balls later it slid through the fingers of Dwaine Pretorius, who tried to conceal his identity by hiding behind his hands.

Helped by this Highveld haplessness, the Sixers had no trouble chasing down the target with an Anglo-Australian partnership in which Brad Haddin displayed the typical Australian cricket qualities of fortitude and determination whilst Michael Lumb displayed the typical England player's familiarity with South African conditions.

But while the T20 juggernaut keeps rolling (if it's November, it must be the HRV Cup) Test cricket is quietly disappearing from the menu. Today we learned that Sri Lanka are hoping to "postpone" their Test series against South Africa next year so they can squeeze in a quadrangular series with the West Indies, Jupiter and a Tagg Romney XI. The five-day stuff has become a snoozeworthy chore, like clearing out your garage, visiting your elderly aunt or eating a bowel-friendly bowl of Andy Flower's Bran and Prune Googlies for breakfast.

Still, if you're worried, Test fans, don't be. Captain Sutherland of Cricket Australia's crack Administrative Procrastination Squad has announced that he is, in theory, broadly in favour of the idea of day-night Test cricket. Announcing that you are broadly in favour of the idea of day-night Test cricket has become a sort of magic spell for administrators. If they repeat it often enough, they hope it will save Test cricket, and at the same time save them from having to do anything to save Test cricket.

*In mitigation, I should add that Ms Knightley has deceptively powerful biceps

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England