Newlands: From 'hero' to zero

2013-10-30 13:30
Newlands (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Most of the intended “golden summer” of international cricket at South Africa’s most popular venue, Newlands, has just gone up in smoke.

Fans slam 'disgraceful' CSA

The ground which national captain Graeme Smith fondly labels the Proteas’ “marquee” place for Test cricket is the glaringly large casualty in the rescheduled, much-curtailed itinerary revealed by Cricket South Africa on Wednesday for India’s controversial tour.

Newlands, one of the relatively few stadiums in the world which still gets bumper five-day gates, is regarded as a fortress by the No 1-ranked Proteas: they have won eight and drawn three of their last 11 Tests there, and last suffered defeat to Australia back in March 2006.

According to the fiercely-debated, supposedly “premature” long Indian itinerary announced by CSA several weeks ago, it was due to get one of the three Tests, one of the two Twenty20 internationals, and one of seven one-day internationals.

But with the programme slashed dramatically at the insistence of the Indian bosses to just two Tests and three ODIs, Newlands suddenly misses out altogether in a decision likely to only add fuel to blaze of dissatisfaction around the whole bilateral rumpus.

Just as bafflingly, all five surviving fixtures are now scheduled for what might roughly be called the north-east corner of South Africa, with Kingsmead in Durban getting the final Test (from Boxing Day) and also one ODI, and the Highveld venues of the Wanderers and SuperSport Park sharing the remainder of the games.

All of these grounds are vulnerable to fickle summer weather patterns, with rain and bad light often a bugbear on the KwaZulu-Natal coast and thunderstorm activity potentially at its peak in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

It was already known a few days ago that Newlands would lose its traditional New Year Test because of the shortened Indian agenda, but Capetonian fans probably felt they would at least earn the compensation, still during the school holiday period, of one of the Tests.

Durban has presumably found strong favour for tour matches because of its big Indian population - but it has already been proved something of a myth before at Test level that the presence of India’s national team in the city guarantees rosy crowds at Kingsmead.

Several of South Africa’s smaller centres are also missing out on lucrative revenue opportunities now that the ODIs have been cut back from seven to three.

CSA has tried to justify the new arrangements by spinning the line that all five of the country’s main Test centres – Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Centurion and Port Elizabeth – are still getting Tests this season, as Australia are due to visit in February and March.

The Baggy Greens are scheduled to play Tests at SuperSport Park, St George’s Park and Newlands in that order – the closing Test is from March 1-5 - but what is overlooked is that by then most of the South African sports public are back in work mode, and have also shifted their attention in significant numbers to the new Super Rugby season.

As things stand, the three T20 games against the Aussies (there are no ODIs against them) are earmarked for Port Elizabeth, Durban and Centurion, so those three centres questionably have much more guaranteed international cricket for 2013/14 at this point than the gold mine of Cape Town does.

CSA, already painfully aware of the vast financial damage the shortened Indian tour will cause, oddly doesn’t appear to be honouring the sound business tradition of “fishing where the fish are”.

There is still talk of a hasty extra incoming series of some sort being arranged, with Pakistan having expressed interest in filling a gap.

But they played in South Africa last season and are currently tackling the Proteas again in the United Arab Emirates, so there is limited novelty to a further tour by them – a suspicion of sloppy seconds by the paying public would be understandable.

Mind you, choice of venues aside, the entire looming summer somehow smells of pungent old soup, doesn’t it?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Newlands (Gallo Images)

Read more on:    csa  |  proteas  |  india in sa  |  graeme smith  |  cricket

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