Kingsmead plans to celebrate the return of the Boxing Day Test in Durban with an explosion of the tradition it represents. The organisers hope to emulate the home of cricket with a Lord’s-themed five days for the first fixture between South Africa and India.
“We made a big push to get this match back and the Durban public did so as well. We’ve got a lot of things planned and additional activities on the go,” Jesse Chellan, chief executive of the Dolphins, the franchise that operates out of Durban, told ESPNcricinfo. “We’re looking to replicate what goes on at Lord’s in terms of the food courts and corporate tents.”
Chellan and his staff have been waiting for South Africa’s 2013-14 home schedule to be announced to see if it would deal them a better hand than it did last season. Then, not only was Kingsmead robbed of its festive five-dayer but it did not host a Test at all.
Instead, the venue was given an ODI and two T20s, one of which was washed out, as Cricket South Africa tried to maximise interest in the two visiting teams. New Zealand’s trip was over the holiday period and because they were considered less marketable than opposition like India, England or Australia, CSA scheduled T20s in the week between Christmas and New Year.
That decision, however, was criticised. Although all the T20s were sold out, cricket fans lamented the removal of the Boxing Day Test. With India providing a significant draw card, CSA was able to restore the fixture in Durban.
Kingsmead has been criticised for crowds that do not match expectation but Chellan said it’s not those numbers alone that indicate interest in the event. “We are very pleased for the Durban public and the South Africa public as a whole. The Boxing Day Test is an institution and people put away time to watch it, whether it’s on the stadium or on television,” he said. “We don’t really make money on the Test matches but it’s an important match to have.”
It has also been dubbed South Africa’s bogey venue because they have not won in Durban since beating West Indies in 2008, but Chellan hopes the No.1 ranked Test side can change their fortunes at his ground.
South Africa’s form suggests they may be able to. They won all five Tests they hosted last summer – two against New Zealand and three against Pakistan – inside four days. They will expect a sterner challenge this season. India and Australia visit for three Tests each but both will have to take South Africa on at fortress Newlands, where the home side last lost in 2006.
Cape Town and Johannesburg will host Tests against India but there was also good news for Port Elizabeth. After going without a Test from 2007, the venue given one last summer against New Zealand and will host Australia this year.
That left only Bloemfontein among the major grounds, which are understood to be the primary venues of each of the six franchises, without a Test. The city has only hosted four Tests in the past, the most recent against Bangladesh in 2008. With talk of seven Tests this summer – the administrators were pondering a fourth against India – Bloemfontein was hopeful of being among the grounds to host but are willing to bide their time for now.
“We are a little disappointed but maybe if there were more Tests in a season, we would come into contention,” Johan van Heerden, the Free State cricket boss said. “We’ve hosted very few Tests so it’s difficult to judge what the spectator numbers will be like here. But we’ve kept maintenance of our stadium superb and we are starting the building of a new hotel on the northern side of the stadium. When that is complete, I think we will have a far greater chance of hosting a Test.”