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‘Is this a defining moment in the death of Test cricket’: Steve's right to be on Waughpath over pathetic Proteas squad

1st January, 2024
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1st January, 2024
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Former Australian captain Steve Waugh couldn’t be more spot on with his fears for the future of Test cricket after blasting Cricket South Africa over the decision to send a second-rate squad to New Zealand for a two-Test series. 

Waugh was typically forthright and straight to the point in an Instagram post in which he posed the question: “Is this a defining moment in the death of Test cricket” under a graphic of the South African team announcement.

“Surely the ICC along the cricket boards of India, England and Australia must step in to protect the purest form of the game. 

“A premium, equal match fee for all test players might be a good starting point. 

“History and tradition must count for something. If we stand by and allow profits to be the defining criteria the legacy of Bradman, Grace and Sobers will be irrelevant.”

South Africa have named a squad with uncapped opener Neil Brand as captain and none of their top-line players due to a clash with their domestic T20 competition.

Brand is one of seven players in the squad who have yet to play Test cricket but have been called up because the SA20, the league that was launched by Cricket South Africa and bankrolled by Indian Premier League investors last year, has been given precedence.

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There were early indicators from South Africa about where their priorities lay when they scaled back their Tests in the four-year Future Tours Programme and then when they cancelled a bilateral one-day series in Australia scheduled for last January because it wanted to ensure its stars were available for the fledgling franchise tournament.

No one particularly missed the ODI series last summer but now that CSA has opted to devalue a Test series with New Zealand, alarm bells are ringing.

The phrase “cheapening the value” is often bandied about when sportspeople are given representative honours for tenuous reasons and this time around it is appropriate.

Former Australian cricketer Steve Waugh during the 2023 National Indigenous Championships at Jim McConville Oval on February 24, 2023 in Alice Springs, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Steve Waugh. (Photo by Chris Hyde – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

For South African players of the past who sweated their way to the top to represent their nation, how must they feel now when a virtual A side is going to be added to the history books?

Marco Jansen, Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne, Gerald Coetzee, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Keshav Maharaj should all be going to NZ but they won’t be because they are considered too important for their respective SA20 franchises.

Just three members of the current Test squad – Keegan Petersen, David Bedingham and Zubayr Hamza – will head to New Zealand while batter Khaya Zondo, seam duo Duanne Olivier and Dane Paterson and spinner Dane Piedt are the only other players who have represented South Africa in the red-ball arena.

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The Proteas thumped India by an innings last week so they can still be more than competitive at Test level when they put their best team on the field.

And the sad thing is that they could be a team that challenges for the World Test Championship final in 2025 – they’ve made a promising start by winning their first Test against India and by not playing Australia or England in the lead-up to next year’s title decider, they’d be a chance to qualify.

But they are virtually forfeiting the two matches in New Zealand and any chance of competing for the WTC honour, which further devalues the relatively new ICC trophy.

There’s no point in having a “World” Test Championship if there are less than a handful of teams with the resources or desire to win the thing.

South Africa kick off their tour with a three-day warm-up match against a New Zealand XI in Christchurch before the first Test at Mount Maunganui from February 4-8 and the second Test in Hamilton from February 13-17.

The Black Caps have been placed in a terrible situation as well – on one hand they are virtually guaranteed a couple of victories but trying to spark any interest from TV viewers or spectators at the grounds will be almost impossible.

Marco Jansen bats against Australia at Melbourne in 2022. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

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At best, it’s a chance for a warm-up before Australia tour a couple of weeks later.

But unfortunately it’s yet another death from a thousand cuts for Test cricket.

It should be a circuit-breaker for the ICC to say enough is enough and step in to ensure the survival of cricket’s traditional format.

The ICC has more than enough money to cough up for the “premium, equal match fee for all Test players” that Waugh is promoting.

If Cricket Australia can invest in loss-making exercises like the Sheffield Shield because it knows it is an essential part of the sport’s ecosystem, surely the ICC can do likewise with Test cricket.

The grand old five-day game is one of many facets of cricket which make the sport unique and now that there is a T20 cash cow generating unheard of amounts for players, national boards, broadcast rights holders and the ICC itself, the least the governing body could do would be to ensure that it remains a crucial part of why cricket is so adored all over the globe.

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