Leading Edge: Competitive cricket – that’s the ticket

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THERE’S an old oke, 80-something, at the gym who can’t walk past without stopping to talk cricket – the score at stumps last night, today’s match, next week’s series.

By cricket he doesn’t mean the stuff that other, younger okes play using a white ball and wearing kit that makes them look like their mothers dressed them funny. He means proper cricket.

Which doesn’t mean he is hung up on the orthodox. Herschelle Gibbs goes to the same gym, and the oldster’s eyes are lit with admiration every time he sees him.

He struggles with some of the names these days. Listening to him get hopelessly lost in the hills and dales of Phehlukwayo is as funny as it is awkward.

But he knows a “bloody good kid” when he sees one, and you cut him some slack for his long years in the game and the stories he tells.

For instance, one fine day, December 3, 1948, he took the train from Joburg to Benoni and saw, with his boy’s own eyes, Denis Compton score 300 in a minute more than three hours.

There was no surprise when he couldn’t walk past without stopping this week. But there was shock in hearing what he had to say.

“Hope you’ve given up cricket. I have. Too bloody one-sided.”

He meant South Africa’s test series against Sri Lanka, a terrible advertisement for the longest format from neutrals’ perspective.

Not because the pitches were tilted acceptably in South Africa’s favour, nor because the home side played damn fine cricket – but because the Lankan batsmen were as lacking in discipline and application as their bowlers were ready, willing and mostly unable.

The old oke is right. Uncompetitive cricket isn’t worth watching. So who can blame Cricket South Africa for not wanting Sri Lanka back next summer, as the schedule dictates.

Staging more closer games in fairer conditions between teams who both know what they’re doing is, alongside the viral spread of T20, the greatest challenge faced by proper cricket.

The old oke won’t give up cricket. In July the South Africans will play a test series in England, and India and Australia are on their way next season, all of which will keep him happy. That Bangladesh are also coming won’t register on his radar.

When he made his dramatic declaration Sri Lanka had squared the T20 series they went on to win, but it wasn’t worth telling him to watch that.

He is more likely to have flicked a moment’s attention at Saturday’s first one-day international, but no more.

Most of the rest of us, while we have our prejudices, will have taken more notice of what happened at St George’s Park and we have four more ODIs to look forward to in the coming days.

We don’t have a memory of Compton going batty in Benoni, but we do have cricket that should be worth watching.

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