South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 5th day November 21, 2011

Two Tests not enough for a marquee series

Scheduling a two-Test series between Australia and South Africa, rivals with a rollicking recent history, was madness. And as a result, the series has no winner

Ask the average South African or Australian cricket fan who won the Tests between the two sides in 2008-09 and they'll probably be able to tell you. Six gripping Tests were played and each side won three, both teams winning their away series. It was a magic home-and-away battle, full of memorable moments. Ask the same people who won the one-dayers or Twenty20s on those same trips, and expect a blank look.

In two years' time few people will recall, or care, who won the T20s and ODIs played in South Africa over the past six weeks. But the Tests, what with 47 all out, 23 wickets in a day, Australia's Wanderers chase, and the emergence of Pat Cummins and Vernon Philander, will be remembered. And fans will wonder how on earth it was only a two-Test series.

The balancing act between Test cricket and the shorter formats is necessary; boards make more money from T20s and ODIs, and cash has become king in cricket. But it cannot be at the expense of quality Test cricket. Scheduling a two-Test series between Australia and South Africa, rivals with a rollicking recent history, was madness. And as a result, the series has no winner.

The boards of both countries are stakeholders in the Champions League T20, which was played shortly before Australia's tour began. And the Australians need to return home for their own summer of cricket, which begins in nine days against New Zealand. But it remains a mystery how a third Test could not have been squeezed in, when it took 16 days to play five games in the short formats.

"I said that before the series, I think it's disappointing," South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, said of the lack of a third Test. "When you have top teams playing each other it's always exciting, it's always competitive and it's good for Test cricket. The last few series we've played have been that way. This was no different. We would have loved to have had more. In the future that's certainly something that the administrators can look at."

Australia's captain, Michael Clarke, was so exhausted at the end of the tense Johannesburg win that he wasn't sure he could handle a third match. But of course he would have loved the opportunity to lead Australia to a 2-1 series victory.

"Yes, now you would say it would have been amazing [to play three]," Clarke said. "I love winning. There's nothing better than winning. But I think the way the series has panned out, a 1-1 draw, is a fair indication of where the teams are at."

Occasionally, a two-Test series can be justified, especially if the disparity between the teams is significant. But Australia and South Africa have provided some of the finest Test cricket when they have met in recent history, and combining their contests at home and away in 2008-09 with the series that has just finished, the results stand at 4-4.

"Hopefully it's a big thumbs-up for Test cricket," Smith said. "I think hopefully the way people will talk and write and present the series will be in a positive light. Especially after the disappointment of the ICC not taking on the Test championship, I think this was obviously a big tick for Test cricket.

"Both teams played 100% cricket. It probably wasn't always pretty at times and not as skilful as what we would have liked, from a personal point of view, but I think it was all out there. Both teams left it all out there. Hopefully it was a big positive for Test cricket going forward."

Smith was right. It wasn't always pretty. But it was always mesmerising. The teams provided fans with eight days of Test cricket that had it all. Both sides suffered calamitous collapses, Australia's 47 in Cape Town following quickly on from South Africa being dismissed for 96.

Hashim Amla scored hundreds in both Tests. Clarke opened the series with a brilliant captain's century in trying conditions. Shane Watson starred with ball and bat and broke down. Ricky Ponting, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson all faced a last chance in Johannesburg, and all played key roles in Australia's win.

Most exciting, both sides handed debuts to exciting fast bowlers who delivered beyond expectation. Cummins was Man of the Match in Johannesburg and Philander was the Player of the Series. Nobody who watched the two Tests will forget the way Cummins and Philander sparked their sides. The same can't be said of the limited-overs games.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on November 23, 2011, 7:08 GMT

    @ redneck - actually I'm neither! LOL! To me Boxing Day in Melbourne is sacred a bit like that horse race on the first Tuesday in November, even Grand Finals in football fluctuate due to scheduling, Bathurst 1000 used to be on the 1st week end in October. My point is, I'd rather make some sacrifices to ensure no further 2-Test series. I'd prefer that Oz v Saffas were the full 5 tests & the only way to do it is to do some trimming.

  • John on November 23, 2011, 0:33 GMT

    As I can recall James Sutherland said that this series was to repay South Africa for touring Australia and not having a Boxing Day test. Based on recent years and compare the crowds of the two respective Boxing Day tests and you can South Africa really got the big favour from Cricket Australia. The late Peter Roebuck said that a two test series should never be allowed to be programed. There are now two series where this has been highlighted. Last years series with Pakistan played in England and this one. A two test series is an insult to any nation even the minnows and with the advent of having tropical test grounds now here in Australia for winter series they should never be programed ever again. Give the minnows a three test series in the tropics and introduce Townsville to test cricket. With digital TV the networks need not worry about losing ratings to the respective football played in our winter. Please consider.

  • Andrew on November 23, 2011, 0:32 GMT

    @pb10677 - no worries mate, never heard of that agreement though! @davidpk - I think Randy Oz was having a dig about Saffas playing for England!

  • hayden on November 22, 2011, 23:48 GMT

    @meety your either victorian or queenslander i take it. sydney has a new years test and adelaide get australia day!!! those 2 features along with boxing day are our big revenue matches. this is how our summer is and should always be!!! aus should never leave home before feb as far as im concerned! simple reason we put bums on seats, and every other nation except england cant even muster 1000 spectators if they try!!

  • Dummy4 on November 22, 2011, 23:11 GMT

    Shan156 : You really do not understand the Indian psyche ( Having won the series against the W Indies and climbed back to number two they have taken their foot off the gas just like they did after the WC which probably contributed amongst other things to the 4-0 result in England. Nobody is going to bust a gut to win a meaningless match. A flat track has been prepared to help Sachin get his 100 hundred. Once he gets this monkey off his back I think the guy is going to go berserk and a lot of bowlers are going to going to wish they had never been born. Can't wait to play England in the test matches next year. I saw guys like Trott and Bell poking around to second string Indian spinners. Bresnan who looked like Curtley Ambrose in the summer was carted around by second string Indian batsmen while Broad and Anderson hid behind Injuries. Looking forward to see how England plays Pakistan before that.

  • Shanmugam on November 22, 2011, 18:49 GMT

    @5wombats, Gerard thinks India played 4 tests against SA - India didn't. They played only 3 tests. And to all Indian fans who crow that they beat England 5-0. Yes, they did but that was in ODIs. Do that in tests and we will talk. First, try to beat WI 3-0 in your backyard - that is looking difficult by the moment (even without Chanders).

  • david on November 22, 2011, 18:35 GMT

    england v wi on boxing day at lords home of cricket. maybe ok if there is a hard frost about. get a grip randyoz please read your item before u press send. dpk

  • Michael on November 22, 2011, 14:42 GMT

    True support for an event is not measurable simply in terms of gate or TV ratings. People have lives which do not allow for long periods away from work, family etc. Obviously overpriced tickets partially explain poor attendances at Tests, as does recession. Support takes place through other mediums such as radio, papers and internet. One cannot measure the impact an event properly has on people's imaginations. More people may go to watch T20 simply because of the time frame, but it is highly likely the Test cricket occupies far more than T20 in people's minds, because of the long time frame and episodic nature. The difrference is similar to that between a very short story and a novel. Thus the latter tends to be far more memorable. In any case regardless of the commercial factors test cricket ashould always be King and T20 a lesser being.

  • david on November 22, 2011, 11:58 GMT

    i dont want the ozzies to give up on their xmas or new year tests. as a pom i love my cricket thru the night at the holiday period. then the safferstests coming on thru the day. as i look at those games as the number 1 test side all trying to to overtake us. hehehe

  • Pelham on November 22, 2011, 11:50 GMT

    I forgot to mention before (which I should have done) is that Cricket Australia do compensate Cricket SA everytime SA travelled to Oz and sacrificed their own event. So it helps redress the balance as such.

    Of course the Australia Boxing Day test is the tradition, it's a flagship event, watched by 100,000 on the day (as RandyOz says) and millions more round the world who would be most disappointed if it was not happening. Me included - after the rigmarole of Xmas Day, there's nothing better than getting home, switching on the TV at midnight and chilling with a few beers watching the action from Down Under. I would be devasted if that option were unavailable to me! I have to say, last year's Boxing Day test was particularly enjoyable (heh heh).....but that's a discussion for another thread!

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