South African pacer Vernon Philander (left), who took eight wickets on Test debut, terrorised the Australian batsmen with his aggression during their first Test at Cape Town © Getty Images
South African pacer Vernon Philander (left), who took eight wickets on Test debut, terrorised the Australian batsmen with his aggression during their first Test at Cape Town © Getty Images

 

By Will Atkins

 

South Africa all out for 96. Australia all out for 47. Eighteen of those wickets fell for 68 runs!

 

Is Test cricket dead? Obviously not!

 

Okay, maybe it isn’t right to use the events of one manic afternoon in Cape Town to prove beyond doubt that a format has been saved. But this one weird couple of hours has given us some of the best Test cricket that will be seen this year, let alone this decade.

 

For all of the talk of T20 killing Test cricket, of players disinterested due to the lack of money, and of crowds staying away, the main threat to Test cricket over the past few years has been completely stone-dead pitches. We’ve seen games where 700 has played 600 after the first innings, and the captains could have shaken hands on the draw after the second day. Only a miracle performance with the ball can produce any inch of excitement or sporting competition on these sorts of pitches, leading to dull draws and talk of Test cricket’s demise.

 

So isn’t it refreshing when a pitch offers a tiny bit to the bowler? While there has been talk about the standard of the pitch not being appropriate to Test cricket, there has been a fair battle between bat and ball throughout. The Australian first innings was a case in point, a fired-up South African bowling attack led by the world’s best paceman, Dale Steyn, chipped away at Australia, only to be held back by a world class performance from Michael Clarke. Bat and ball were in fierce competition, and given that these were the world’s best in action, the spectacle was fascinating. Clarke eventually perished for 151, dragging his team to 248, and it was as enthralling an innings as I can remember for a long time.

 

What happened next was absolutely mental, with wickets falling all over the place, and there were plenty of rash shots from batsmen that were far from world class. While there may have been one too many gremlins in the pitch, surely it was more exciting and interesting than seeing bat dominate ball for session after interminable session? And the partnership at the end of Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith to get South Africa to stumps just one down shows that a lot of the wickets were down to a combination of good bowling and awful batting.

 

I don’t think any of us really thought Test cricket was on its death bed, and days like this proved just how alive the format is. The South Africa-Cape Town Test and the one last week where the West Indies gave India an almighty shock, certainly show that Test cricket isn’t really in a terminal decline. Sure, games like the first Test between Sri Lanka and West Indies at Galle last year and disturbing facts like a Test that could well have seen Sachin Tendulkar hit his 100th international century which saw only 8,000 people turning up on a Sunday to a ground that holds 50,000 doesn’t really help. But any format that England are best in the world is surely fine in anyone’s book…

 

(Will Atkins is a cricket writer and blogger for The Short Midwicket – theshortmidwicket.blogspot.com. When he isn’t watching, writing or podcasting about cricket, he dresses up as a panther for Middlesex County Cricket Club)