Wanderers unlikely to help Test cricket's endangered species survive

14 January 2019 - 09:38 By Telford Vice
Vernon Philander of South Africa celebrates wicket of Azhar Ali of Pakistan during Day 1 of the Castle Lager Test Series cricket match between South Africa and Pakistan at the Wanderers, Johannesburg on 11 January 2019.
Vernon Philander of South Africa celebrates wicket of Azhar Ali of Pakistan during Day 1 of the Castle Lager Test Series cricket match between South Africa and Pakistan at the Wanderers, Johannesburg on 11 January 2019.
Image: ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Sometime on Monday‚ probably‚ the Wanderers Test will be tossed atop the pile of evidence that cricket as we know it has changed. Maybe forever.

South Africa need seven wickets. Pakistan need 228 runs. Monday is the fourth day.

Victory is‚ thus‚ assured — although the 60% and 80% chance of rain forecast for Monday and Tuesday in Johannesburg could complicate things.

If the weather doesn’t get in the way too much even the not so smart money will be on South Africa winning to complete a 3-0 series triumph.

They’ve dismissed Pakistan in significantly inside a day four times in five completed innings — four of which have lasted from 47 to 56 overs‚ the other 70.4 — while the visitors have scored more than what remains of their target only once in those five innings.

And that’s including the efforts of three more than the eight batters still alive in their second innings.

So a South Africa win seems assured. But success for Pakistan is also a possibility‚ not least because the Wanderers has delivered the best batting pitch in a series in which the other surfaces have aided and abetted the seamers’ domination.

It’s an intriguing equation‚ and a good advertisement for dead rubbers everywhere.

What the match doesn’t have are the makings of that rare beast in modern cricket: the draw.

In the 2000s more than 40 Tests have been played every year except two — there were 31 in 2007 and 39 in 2011 — and only seven times in those 19 years has the number of draws not reached double figures.

But it hasn’t happened since 2013‚ when 11 of the 44 Tests played were drawn. Last year‚ of the 48 games played‚ only five ended inconclusively.

And if you’re trying to save a Test best you aren’t playing in South Africa: only 14.14% of the 99 matches played there from 2000 have been neither won nor lost.

That’s the lowest percentage of draws anywhere except in Zimbabwe‚ where the home side struggle to put a Test team worthy of that status on the field much less play competitive cricket.

On top of that‚ the highveld is the last place in South Africa you would want to try and bat out a stalemate.

Only 10% of Tests at Centurion have been drawn and 10.53% of games at the Wanderers.

That gets up to 18.18% at St George’s Park‚ 18.75% at Kingsmead and 19.23% at Newlands.

All of which will chime with what a generation of cricket followers who are being fed a steady diet of positive results they have come to regard as the norm.

What with ultra attacking batting now the orthodox approach and pitches bespoke for results more common than not‚ it’s difficult to see how that trend will be reeled in.

But some of us might hold out hope that cricket’s brave new world still has room for something as ancient and honourable as a dear old draw.

The Wanderers would be a better place than most for that to happen.

X