UNLIKE last summer, South Africans will have a Boxing Day cricket Test to watch in 2013.
The fixture is on the list for the 2013-14 season released by Cricket South Africa on Monday. It will be played, as previously, at Kingsmead in Durban. But traditionalists should not celebrate the decision as a victory over what they see as dangerous modernism encroaching on the values of the game.
Normal service will resume in December more out of Cricket South Africa’s need to maximise its earning potential than attempts to preserve the character of cricket in South Africa.
The Boxing Day Test is, in fact, not a tradition. The first such match there was played as recently as 1994, and only 12 of the ground’s 39 Tests have started on Boxing Day.
However, Cricket South Africa took flak when it replaced last season’s Boxing Day Test, which would have been played between South Africa and New Zealand, with a Twenty20 at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth on December 26.
Cricket South Africa’s acting CE, Naasei Appiah, said on Monday that the motives for that change from what many South Africans had come to regard as an important summer ritual were that “we wanted to see how it works financially and we thought that, against New Zealand, we could do without it”.
This season, South Africa’s opponents at Kingsmead on Boxing Day will be India, whose huge box office potential is impervious to their form.
About 176-million Indians watched cricket on television in 2010 and Indian police estimate that $5bn flowed into the country’s illegal betting industry during the 2011 World Cup. On top of that, the way cricket’s audience consumes the game has changed.
“Test cricket has become more of a television product than a live product,” Appiah said.
“People can’t go to the stadium to watch for four or five days.”
Last season they could not see any Test cricket in Durban. Instead, Kingsmead hosted a one-day international against Pakistan and Twenty20 against Pakistan, which was washed out, and New Zealand.
But there were plenty of smiles at the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union on Monday at the news that Kingsmead was again on the Test calendar. “We’re absolutely delighted to have the Boxing Day Test match back,” the cricket union’s CE, Jesse Chellan, said on Monday.
• Proteas assistant coach Adrian Birrell will bring stability to the national team, local coaches believe.
Birrell, who coached the Irish team that knocked out Pakistan at the 2007 World Cup, was last week announced as Proteas head coach Russell Domingo’s assistant.
The news of the appointment took its time making it to certain parts of the Eastern Cape. Former Proteas bowler Makhaya Ntini on Monday his surprise at the appointment of his former coach at the Warriors. “What? When did this happen?” was Ntini’s immediate reaction on Monday.
Birrell and Domingo have a successful history, having worked together for years at Eastern Province cricket, and Birrell was also Domingo’s assistant when a Warriors team that included Ntini took part in the 2010 Champions League Trophy.
The Lions’ Geoffrey Toyana and former South Africa coach Ray Jennings believe the combination will help take the Proteas to new heights.
“Birrell is a top guy — a very good coach as we saw when he coached Ireland. He’s also been successful in the under-19 setup (with England).
“I know Birrell, together with Russell, will take South Africa to another level. His fluency in Xhosa will also help reach out to (some of) the players,” Toyana said. Jennings stressed the importance of Domingo having a coaching staff he could trust.
With Chumani Bambani