South Africa in West Indies 2010 June 27, 2010

The forgotten series

The ongoing Test series between West Indies and South Africa has been overshadowed by the football World Cup and blighted by uncompetitive cricket

When the first ball of a decisive Test between West Indies and the game's second-ranked team was bowled at Kensington Oval yesterday, there were nearly as many menacing looking task force policemen, in their dark overalls, assault rifles on their shoulders and revolvers on their hips, as spectators in the stands. Perhaps they heard a rumour that 'Dudus' Coke was somehow in the vicinity but their presence, and even that of the contingent from the ordinary constabulary, seemed absurdly redundant.

Basic cricket knowledge would have advised them that, if they had to be at any sporting venue, it would have been Bubba's, Lucky Horse Shoe or any of the other spots beaming live coverage of football World Cup matches from South Africa. The obvious reality is that this series was always competing with the football for the public's attention. Especially since it involved South Africa, whose players were denied the experience of being present at the rainbow nation's greatest sporting occasion. Cancellation would have been the best option, except that it was already cast in stone on the ICC's future tours programme.

The choice for fans yesterday was between the two matches in the round of 16 from South Africa, carried free on TV at precisely the same time as the Test, and forking out around 50 bucks a day to watch the cricket - that is, after being thoroughly frisked on entry and scared witless by the sight of a group of formidable, heavily armed men. If anything, the attendance was even smaller for the earlier Tests in Port of Spain and St. Kitts than it eventually was at Kensington.

Perhaps the defining spell of the series was during the first Test at the Queen's Park Oval. The Trini Posse had installed a large television set in their stand for those of their clients keen to follow both the cricket and the football. Since it was at the rear, it meant those watching England's opening match against the US had to turn their back on the cricket -and they were in the overwhelming majority. There were, of course, a few ways to have countered the pervasive hype of the football.

The first was for West Indies to present the South Africans with a competitive challenge. The second was for the cricket to be of genuine, compelling Test-match quality. The third was for the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to launch an imaginative, intensive promotional campaign, along the lines of the 'Bring It' exercise that proved so effective for the World Twenty20 tournament. Lowering the prices, as for the Twenty20, was another obvious alternative. All came to nothing.

West Indies had, once more, disappointed their supporters by losing the two Twenty20 Internationals and the five ODIs. Yet they came close to victory three times and there were signs that they would give their superior opponents something to think about in the Test. That hope disappeared within the first two sessions of the third day of the first match.

After keeping South Africa to 352 in their first innings, West Indies folded for 102 all out in 47.1 overs. It was a hapless performance. Only a last-wicket partnership of 27 saved them from double-figure humiliation. Defeat by 163 runs, with a day to spare, was the inevitable outcome.

Long before then, the trials and tribulations of the French and Italians and England's great escape in South Africa had provided potential cricket supporters with a welcome distraction. Their mood was reflected in their pointed absence from the second Test at Warner Park in St Kitts.

Those diehards who turned out did see a spirited West Indies response to their first Test demise. On a pitch apparently transported the few miles across the Caribbean from the Antigua Recreation Ground, that scene of batting records, they even had the satisfaction of hundreds by Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brendan Nash and a first-innings lead. But it was meaningless to the outcome of the match.

Indeed, nothing demeans Test cricket quite as much as run-heavy draws on placid pitches. When this was compounded by the abhorrent cynicism of both teams over the first two sessions of the fourth day, the game's traditional format was further debased. The West Indies were 424 for 4 at the start, responding to South Africa's 543 for 6 declared. It was an equation that shouted draw.

What followed was the noise of nails being hammered into a coffin that is awaiting the limp body of Test cricket, now increasingly weakened by the shallow, all-action excitement of the Twenty20. South Africa adopted the tactic of left-arm spinner Paul Harris bowling a foot and more outside leg-stump from over the wicket from one end and fast bowlers firing it the same distance wide off stump from the other.

Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo reacted to such go-slow methods with their own. Chanderpaul blocked, Bravo kept kicking the ball away. The first session yielded 39 runs off 29 overs in two hours. The second brought the same slim pickings. It was not Test cricket. It was not cricket, period. It was an approach by highly-paid cricketers guaranteed to undermine a sport that is their profession.

Each team cast the blame elsewhere, mainly the pitch and each other. Neither seemed to accept the responsibility was theirs. Graeme Smith, the South African captain, said during the week that a Test championship is "a matter of urgency to stimulate the five-day game".

"Such a championship would give context and value to every Test match and would stimulate interest in the five-day game worldwide," he reasoned. That may or may not be so but the players must surely recognise their part in ensuring that Tests remain the pinnacle of the game, a position they all profess to accept.

They shirked their duty in St Kitts. They cannot be surprised when so few now turn out to watch them, even at Kensington Oval where the names of great players adorn stands that were once crammed to capacity to watch contests such as yesterday's.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 28, 2010, 13:36 GMT

    Improve the standard of pitches, pitches like used in 2nd test could be avoided.

  • Dummy4 on June 28, 2010, 11:31 GMT

    Well Test matches are boring... especially compared to a FIFA World Cup match...

    Bring on the T20s during this time ! Even ODIs don't cut it.

  • Gerald on June 28, 2010, 9:43 GMT

    The only problem was the 2nd Test's shamefully flat pitch. The 3rd Test is already much more absorbing just because the batsmen have to graft. Tthe empty stands has nothing to do with the World Cup. It is indicative of where WI is cricket wise. South Africans still follow their team's activities. Don't try and hide the fact that WI administration is responsible for allowing the game wither and die on its watch. Wait for the next Test series and you'll see the stand are still empty. And what about the England games against Australia? The stands are full eventhough England is/was a main contendor. Blaming it on soccer is a sad, sad cop-out.

  • Emile on June 28, 2010, 9:18 GMT

    Sad to read all these negative comments and reactions which are typical in this era of over-commercialisation. I agree with andrew-scultz. Yet it is amusing how there are more draws in this so called Fifa event in Sourh Africa that barely raises a mention. I felt day two of this third Test as among the best cricket I have seen in the last 20 years. And no Katocnr, cricket was never always like this. It needs to be remembered that with uncovered surfaces there were always results and quality cricket. Remember as well, this series was scheduled long before the Fifa 2010.

  • Rajesh on June 28, 2010, 5:36 GMT

    Sorry to say, but these days any Cricket series in which the West Indies play doesn't invoke much interest....... and the Soccer World Cup in South Africa doesn't help the cause either !

  • Hildreth on June 28, 2010, 5:36 GMT

    Yes I agree, the 4th day of 2nd test was bad for test cricket but it was more West Indies than South Africa to blame. SA was trying to prevent WI from scoring quickly to surpass their score and take a significant lead. WI meekly obliged and worked for a draw at this early stage, even though they had batted themselves into a strong position at the end of day 3. I would suggest that in order to make TEST cricket more exciting: (a) Dead tracks like those existing in St. Kitts and Antigua be AVOIDED for test cricket and should only be reconsidered if they are relaid and proven to be more bowler friendly over a period of at least 3 years. (b) A TEST innings should be LIMITED to between 100 to 120 overs (maximum). The 1st inning would end if a team declares, is bowled out or when it has batted the max overs allowed. Similar rules can be applied as in ODI format. Team batting last earns a draw if they are not bowled out within max overs. Call it Test Cricket Plus or Test Cricket( Limited).

  • giovaughn on June 27, 2010, 23:36 GMT

    its simple a choice should have been made between the bi lateral series & the 20/20 worldcup. having cricket between a top class team like South Africa & Worst Indies during the FIFA world cup show the lack of common sense of the ppl who make up the cricket calender . the England Australia series going on now is also poor planning but @ least the cricket being played is not predictable & one sided

  • Ambrose on June 27, 2010, 22:28 GMT

    I too consider myself a diehard WI fan but I mean the performances and so demoralising that I rather watch world cup games and then switch back to the cricket. I do think that it was poorly scheduled. The test matches could have been put before the ODI's and T20's. On the other hand I still do think that until CG goes as a captain will we see something more positive. Case in point: we had AB de villiers out twice today but the captain refused to call 4 reviews(twice 2 the same batsman). Even Tony himself said that CG had called 4 a review, until he realised that Gayle hadnt so obvious was the interest. I think AB had less than 10 runs when that occured. SA now are about 50 ahead. Just as moments in a WC game can change a football match so to can instances in a cricket match.

  • Nader on June 27, 2010, 22:18 GMT

    I've travelled 24 hours from Cork in Ireland to watch the third test here in Barbados. Most of my cricket is limited to TV spectating, so this was a great opportunity to watch a live test match with two teams that I have historically enjoyed watching, for different reasons, on TV. I have two comments to make on my experience so far. Firstly, it was a real disappointment to be one of only a handful of spectators in the Greenidge & Haynes stand, with the corporate suites all seemingly empty. No-one is making any money out of this test match, and money talks. Secondly, I have been struck by the passion with which Barbadians follow their cricket, and the genuine support the few who turn up give to their team. Make no mistake, all over Barbados locals are listening to the match on their radios, and following events despite the intrusion of the World Cup. The interest is there, it just isn't being tapped! By the way, the cricket has been great!

  • Sayyed Azhar on June 27, 2010, 18:39 GMT

    Without commenting on the reasons for the alleged demise of test cricket, I do have to say that there seem to be too many matches being played these days - tests and the shorter forms of the game. Tour after tour piled one after the other. And many of the series seem pointless, a case of quantity over quality. It does not make any sense!

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