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December 12, 2000
Like few other sports cricket has the ability to make itself look silly. On the very day that Shaun Pollock should have been celebrating a Castle Lager/MTN Test series victory over New Zealand, questions were being asked of him why he had chosen to play it the way he had.
With three out of the first four days in the third Test lost entirely to rain at the Wanderers, the fifth day was always going to be a matter of heading towards the inevitable draw. Unless someone grasped the nettle and tried to make something out of nothing.
Pollock had two choices when play finally got underway on the last day: he could either declare at some stage, throw the ball in New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming's court and see what happened; or he could bat it out.
He chose the latter, opted for batting practice, allowed Boeta Dippenaar a maiden Test century that will be special to the 23-year-old but tarnished just a little by the circumstances and condemned the day, if not quite the entire game, to a fairly pointless exercise in tedium.
South African cricket's recent background, of course, has to be taken into account. It is less than a year since Hansie Cronje approached Nasser Hussain with a view to making something out of a similar situation at Centurion Park. As Fleming noted, there is still some baggage floating around after that one and the presence of the infamous Marlon Aronstam lurking near the dressing rooms on Saturday could not have helped matters.
Yet the way everything panned out tended only to beg a number of questions: what, really, is the point of playing "dead" matches once a rubber has been decided and, as a corollary, what purpose is served by forcing the players to go through a "dead" day?
Alternatively, if we accept that for the time being there is no viable technological method of keeping the weather at bay, why don't Test matches have reserve days like one-day finals? If both Pollock and Fleming though they had another day to juggle with, both might have played it rather differently.
In the end, though, South Africa made 261 for three in reply to New Zealand's 200 all out. Dippenaar got exactly 100 and promptly got out, thereby learning, as he acknowledged afterwards, an important lesson; Jacques Kallis made an unbeaten 79 and might have had his second century had he not dozed off after tea. In the first hour of the final session of the match, Kallis and Daryll Cullinan added nine in 14 overs, a passage of play that served only to underline the meaninglessness of it all.
It was all somehow summed up when the match adjudicator, Ted Wood, gave the man of the match award to the groundsman, Chris Scott, and his staff at the end of the game (Makhaya Ntini, deservedly, was the man of the series). For all the platitudes about the integrity of Test cricket, the outcome most strongly suggests that if this form of the game is to survive, then everyone concerned has to rethink it. Despite South Africa's efficiency and their 2-0 win, the series struggled to come to life and it will leave few abiding memories.
Fleming, as coherent as sensible as ever, talked at length afterwards about the options that might have been available, cricket's need to entertain and the series and tour as a whole. But it all boiled down, essentially, to one word: "frustration".
That's exactly how everyone at the Wanderers must have felt.
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