Leading Edge: All aboard test cricket’s treadmill

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

KYLE Abbott is one of nature’s perkiest cricketers. He has to be: he never knows when he is going to be dropped for no good reason or when he is going to be bundled on to a plane bound for the other side of the world before he has had a chance to brush his teeth that day.

Both fates have befallen Abbott this year – the first before the World Cup semi-final in March, the second ahead of the Bangalore test last month.

Through it all, he has maintained a bulletproof sense of humour and adventure. You can see it in his eyes, the spring in his step, and in the thoughtfulness with which he answers reporters’ often stupid questions.

But even Abbott seemed to have run out of happy thoughts when he sat down at a press conference in Delhi nine days ago after the third day’s play in the fourth test.

His walk into the room had been as flat as his bowling had not been the day before, when he completed a haul of 5/40. The sun seemed to have set on his disposition.

Maybe the tedious irrelevance of the match – by then India had won the series – had got to him. Perhaps SA being bowled out more than 200 runs behind was just too much for a bowler to bear. Could he have been miffed that instead of being able to put his feet up for a bit while SA followed on, Virat Kohli had chosen to bat again when the match resumed the next day? Which meant Abbott would have to bowl again.

Whatever it was, Abbott’s sparkless eyes were not those of a player satisfied with his lot.

At least his thoughtfulness still flickered. “The longer they bat, the happier we are; it takes more overs out of the game,” he said over the strains of a violin played with searing sadness by a hungover circus clown skulking beside the sponsors’ banner.

OK, so there was no clown and no violin. But there was something maudlin. And who could blame Abbott if it was this: there are only 19 days between the end of SA’s time in India and the commencement of hostilities against England.

People in Abbott’s circumstances would be forgiven for losing track of where one tour ends and the other begins, although there could be a clue in the unlikelihood of the pitches in SA not being prepared to cheat England out of a fair chance to win the series.

Abbott’s mood might have been starkly different had it been SA who were perched on an unassailable series lead, or if the series was still in the balance, or even if the meaningless match remained within grabbing distance of a team desperate to go home with something besides their boarding passes to show for their efforts in the tests on a tour that, eons before, had seen them win the one-day and T20 rubbers.

None of the above was so. Instead, all that was ahead of Abbott was another two days’ play, a long trip home, and the need to do it all again all too soon.

The tour to India is dead. Long live the tour by England. Welcome to the treadmill of test cricket.

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