South Africa’s Test victory taught us nothing we didn’t already know about day-night pink ball cricket, writes GARY LEMKE.
First things first. Very well played South Africa. Any Test victory is worth celebration and when it comes inside two days then the beers need to flow. This one, by an innings and 120 runs against Zimbabwe at St George’s Park, slots in at No 4 on the list of shortest Test matches in terms of balls bowled since Australia beat New Zealand in 1946.
That’s quite a stat, but it becomes the third shortest if you exclude the one in 2000 when Hansie Cronje sold his soul and the sport to bookmakers against England at Centurion Park.
This ‘Boxing Day Test’ was all over in 907 balls. In their time at the crease South Africa faced 471 of them, and Zimbabwe were bowled out in 181 balls and 255 balls, respectively. Tellingly, nine wickets fell – five South African and four Zimbabwean – in the 29.3 overs bowled under lights in this match.
There are 10 Test nations and South Africa are No 2 on that list, with Zimbabwe at No 10. South Africa winning is the only expected result – although any time a Test is over inside two days sends the game’s statisticians diving into their research mechanisms.
This Test, though, can be excused from such scrutiny. After all, it received special status from the game’s governing body, the International Cricket Council, to be considered a ‘trial’, a truncated ‘day-night Test’ over four ‘day-nights’.
We didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know. Conditions are vastly different when the floodlights come on and the pink ball can behave as if it has taken on another life form. One can only speculate what kind of damage the likes of West Indies greats like Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and others would have done in a day-night ‘pink ball’ environment against inferior opposition.
Morne Morkel is challenging enough in daylight but under lights he’s a scary proposition to any batsman in the world and his first innings 5-21 were the third best Test figures he’s recorded in 80 matches. He took 3-20 in seven hostile overs after the first day dinner break.
Vernon Philander is a bowler who would fit in with the finest of any generation. Stick him under lights with the pink ball and he’s unplayable as his evening session spell of 6-3-5-1 proved.
Man of the match Aiden Markram cashed in under the first-day sun with a classy 125 and he has arrived as a Test player. The 23-year-old is calm at the crease, plays equally well off the front and back foot and it will be exciting to see him against better opposition than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, where he has recorded two Test hundreds in three matches.
The only criticism of South Africa’s victory? When Quinton de Kock clutched his right hamstring, turning down a third run with Philander, and then hobbled around in pain for a few more overs, why is it that the team’s medical staff didn’t see what so many others did? This was not cramp, so why did the physio stretch the leg, hand over a salt tablet and treat it as cramp? De Kock had only faced 26 balls and lasted another 12, in obvious discomfort. Why risk such a valuable asset with bigger assignments against India and Australia looming?
Back to the ‘four day-night Test’, though. Given that it was officially a ‘trial’, or experiment, what happens to the statistics from the match, and future such experiments? After all, cricket is a game based on statistics.
What do we make of a different Test format? Do we insert an asterisk next to someone’s performance to reflect the pink ball day-night experience?
And what did beating Zimbabwe inside two days tell us? Answer: Nothing.
South Africa did the same to Zimbabwe at Newlands in a five-day Test on 4-5 March 2005, bowling the visitors out for 54 in their first innings and then only needing to bat once.
That game lasted 940 balls, only 33 balls longer than it lasted in Port Elizabeth. Nearly 13 years apart, South Africa beat Zimbabwe inside two days in Test matches. Different formats, same result. There is day and night between the two countries at Test level.
If the ICC is truly keen to trial four day-night Tests then let them involve India in one of them, preferably against South Africa. Let’s see how the Indian batsmen jump around under lights against Morkel, Philander and Kagiso Rabada – and even Dale Steyn – and let’s see how Indian cricket’s custodians react to the unequal contest between bat and ball.
It won’t get to that, though, because India controls the sport. So why inflict the experience on other countries, especially already those like Zimbabwe who don’t stand a chance under normal Test conditions, let alone under lights?
— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) December 27, 2017
Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/Getty Images