In & Out: Getting testy about pink balls

2015-07-26 15:00

As the test cricket season went into full swing up north, with two series involving three top nations and one upstart determined to make its presence known, I was reminded of something former Arsenal great Thierry Henry once said: “I don’t watch cricket. How can you like a game that requires you to take four days off work to follow a test?”

This very issue emerged last week as critics began, once again, to wonder aloud, although perhaps with renewed uncertainty, about the future of the five-day game.

Worried the modern-day attention span, which they feel has been eroded even further by the 20-over format, does not accommodate a marathon sporting event, ludicrous suggestions have been flung around clumsily, much like Imran Tahir trying to get to grips with that thing called fielding.

In a debate among cricket’s most vocal former players-turned-commentators at Lord’s last week, shortly after England’s purple patch was somewhat defecated on by Australia in the second Ashes test, legendary former Aussie spinner Shane Warne called for a trial of four-day, day-night tests, which of course would be played – in all seriousness – with pink balls.

“Garbage!” cried Sir Ian Botham. “As soon as the sun goes down, the conditions become horrific.”

I get a sense Botham was not really concerned about conditions as much as he was about the prospect of playing with those pink balls.

Former England captain Michael Atherton said even he wouldn’t bother going to watch a test where “700 plays 600”, referring to the dead tracks prepared for matches in some countries.

It really makes one wonder when those seemingly so entrenched in the tradition of test cricket rubbish aspects of the format they hold in such high esteem.

But it was Michael Holding, the deadly paceman from the West Indies better known as “Whispering Death” in his heyday, who cut through the din.

Commenting on the importance of preparing pitches appropriately for test matches and on the role pitch conditions play in test matches, he proposed: “Why don’t we just do away with the toss and let the visiting team decide what to do?”

The rest of the panel nodded sagely in agreement, knowing full well how the outcome of the toss ripples through the quality of matches when pitches are prepared in favour of the home side.

If test cricket is to bounce back, as it were, Holding also suggested there needed to be something at stake for participating teams other than national pride and meagre bonuses.

He proposed a league with two divisions, where teams play one another home and away, and, at the end of the season, the bottom two are relegated from the higher division and the top two are promoted from the lower one.

Could it work? Possibly. Enough to make the series the Proteas are playing in Bangladesh more intriguing? It seems so. If standings were at stake and the series was being played in the broader context of a league, perhaps it wouldn’t be so easy to shrug off the Proteas’ poor performance and praise the plucky Bangladeshis’ resolve.

And, of course, we’d have a lot more “meaningful” test cricket to look forward to.

@Longbottom_69 is an armchair cricket critic. Unlike Henry, he can’t think of a better reason to take four days off work

Read more on:    thierry henry

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