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What does South Africa's poor Test attendance mean for the format's future?

South Africa's batsman AB de Villiers. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Expert
1st March, 2018
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2477 Reads

South Africa versus Australia, in Test match terms, is often as good as it gets.

From the back-to-back series in 1993-94 which saw the two countries properly introduced after more than two decades of necessary separation, to the repeated surrendering of home advantage which has been the trend in recent years, the fare served up has been highly-skilled and dripping in testosterone-drenched competitiveness.

It is just how international sport should be. Two proud nations, with a mutual respect for each other, going hammer and tongs in the search for southern hemisphere supremacy.

In fact, exactly the sort of thing that is well worth watching. Well, not if the morning attendance at Kingsmead is anything to go by.

When the teams lined up before the first days’ play of a keenly anticipated series, it would have been an insult to the word ‘crowd’ to describe it those terms given the pitifully small number of punters present.

Clubs forced to host behind closed doors football fixtures welcome more through the door and the turnstile operators in Durban probably won’t ever earn an easier morning’s corn.

It was quite sad to witness and there will inevitably be plenty written, just like this I suppose, regarding the format’s future and whether, indeed, it actually has one.

Add to the mix the recent decisions of Alex Hales and Adil Rashid to effectively jettison any idea of adding to their Test cap tallies by putting all their respective eggs in the white ball basket, and you can quite easily put two and two together and come up with doom and gloom.

The conundrum doesn’t have a straightforward answer as these scenarios rarely do, but any doubts surrounding where the oldest format fits into the bigger picture can only be amplified by such occurrences.

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This is only a snapshot and it’s worth mentioning that Test attendances in South Africa are not, on average, particularly great and it’s a surprise that it has taken so long for high-profile players to publicly pin their colours exclusively to the limited overs mast.

But trends have a habit of gaining pace and traction and in these days of countless opinion and judgement from myriad angles, it doesn’t take long before a murmur becomes a conversation becomes a groundswell becomes a deafening shout.

Factor into the equation the unchecked proliferation of Twenty20 tournaments and there is a decreasing amount of space to be occupied.

Boards the world over will happily take the dollar coming in from the shorter format while continuing to schedule a glut of international fixtures; something will, at some point, have to give.

The worry for those who appreciate the traditional side of things is that when it gets to the stage of the new kid on the block commanding more and more attention and more and more financial clout then it’s older relative, which will win the day?

AB De Villiers vs India

(AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

For all the talk of those in control of preserving the sport’s heritage, of maintaining the primacy of Test cricket, there is enough evidence to suggest this is not manifested in action.

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Boxing Day Tests giving way to limited overs games, T20 internationals encroaching on Test matches and unsympathetic scheduling; it isn’t hard to find if you’re prepared to look.

Test series are still being played, there is a global calendar in place and the playing pool is swelling with new nations entering the fray.

That has to be seen as a good thing and Ireland and Afghanistan’s upcoming bows in the five-day game, at home to Pakistan and away in India respectively, are events to look forward to but it is undoubtedly an uncertain world to which they will be entering.

Warning signs are there but they are flashing brighter than ever.

There is no reason why there can’t be a harmonious existence between all cricket has to offer and a paltry attendance on one day of Test cricket and a couple of cricketers not wanting to wash their whites any more should probably be taken simply as things that happen and not the harbingers of Armageddon.

But in the not too distant future there will decisions to be made and let’s hope the swathes of empty Kingsmead seats aren’t an unwelcome metaphor for the direction the wind is heading.