North v South: lukewarm tea
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The reasonably nail-biting finish was just about
enough to revise my own verdict on the inaugural State of Origin Twenty20
cricket match at Newlands here on Saturday from humdrum experience to modest
And if anyone agrees with that reasonably middle-of-the-road
contention, the logical next question to ask would be: was it strong enough
fare to warrant annual installation to the domestic fixture list?
My answer leans toward “no” ... though I wouldn’t object too
loudly to another stab a couple of years up the road, perhaps with a Highveld venue
this time given an opportunity to see if it can somehow bed it down as a fairly
I feared before the game began that regional passions are
much more easily raised in South Africa’s rugby landscape than at the summer
pursuit, and little evidence was presented to alter that suspicion as the always
batting-strong North XI duly saw off their southern counterparts by three
wickets with a ball to spare.
Jubilant street celebrations are unlikely in Johannesburg,
Pretoria and Bloemfontein, whilst heads are unlikely to be bowed too severely
or for too long in places like Durban, Port Elizabeth and the host city for the
It just felt a tad too contrived and, at times when the
contest just dawdled for a few overs, it was almost difficult to remember
exactly which bright-shirted combo particular players were representing.
Even Hashim Amla, one of the country’s finest players and
not one known for making the slightest of brash or controversial statements,
admitted in a snap television interview after his bright knock for the North –
er, sorry, South – that it had been tricky for the teams to gel given how
quickly and just a bit confusingly they were assembled on the day.
In fairness, I suppose marketing onslaughts for another
clash of this kind might be easier to amass if it earns more orthodox,
standalone status, rather than being merely the middle part of a three-day
sandwich featuring different ingredients in the Cell C Festival of Cricket.
What was all too obvious was the significant fall-off (by
well more than half, it seemed) in attendance terms after the near full house
for the unpretentious fun that was the exhibition match between the Proteas and
Springboks less than 24 hours earlier.
The North-South fixture also suffered, I felt, from carrying
over too much of the bonhomie from the game preceding it.
When there isn’t genuine needle, there also isn’t true
purpose or intrigue to proceedings, is there?
I get the sense that connoisseurs of the game – or read:
staunch Test-lovers – are irked, too, by the cynical proliferation of five T20
games over the three days at Newlands, about as violent a departure from the
five-day international combat they would normally bank on at this time of year
as you could get.
Frankly, even a subtle change of style to a 50-overs match
at some stage during the “festival” would have made a pleasant diversion,
although admittedly that brings greater physical demands to the players and a
rest day somewhere might have been required under such circumstances.
Far better than a geographical separation into two units of
the country’s top stars, I would have loved to have seen, for instance, a
flaunting of our current impressive depth of talent through a full-blooded
contest between the Proteas’ first-choice ODI side and those immediately and
hungrily knocking at the door for selection.
Would that really be so far-fetched a concept?
Keep in mind that in 1994/95, when Australian cricket was
feeling similarly pretty good about itself, they had the audacity, after
winning a home Ashes series 3-1, to rub salt into England’s wounds by adding
Australia A to the subsequent one-day series ... and yes, both Aussie sides
ended up contesting the two-leg final.
The most genuine article, if you like, in the Festival of
Cricket kicks into gear on Sunday from 10:00 as all six SA franchises enter the
Ram Slam Twenty20 Challenge fray with a three-match opening-round bonanza.
Expect the giggles and banter to suddenly tone down
substantially, and it will be no bad thing.
Newlands over New Year at least deserves that much.
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