The Tiffany Blue seats at Kingsmead, witnessed Neil Wagner taking 3 wickets  © AFP
The Tiffany Blue seats at Kingsmead, witnessed Neil Wagner taking 3 wickets © AFP

An aggressive approach with the bat, classic shots from the textbook, dangerous swing, late movement, patience and skill at work; Day One at Durban had every ingredient you would associate with Test cricket. A top-notch Trent Boult steaming in from his very first over, hungry for that first breakthrough, was enough to signal there would be fierce competition, as the two-match Test series between a low-ranked, South Africa, and Kane Williamson’s ever-hungry-for-success New Zealand side progresses. From Hashim Amla’s spectacular shot-making, to Neil Wagner’s well-earned three wickets; from Williamson’s one-handed stunner to send Faf du Plessis back, to those exquisite cover drives from Temba Bavuma, Day One had everything. Including empty stands as witnesses. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: South Africa vs New Zealand, 1st Test at Durban

As the attention moved away from the wet outfield, that delayed proceedings at Kingsmead, it swayed to the attendance at the stadium. It was a familiar site, in Test cricket, apart from that in England of course. Surely there were more people than what the India versus West Indies, First test at Antigua saw, but it was shameful. Two top-quality sides, both relishing the opportunity to play each other and ‘improve’, giving it their best, and no attendees to cherish their competition. Just Tiffany-blue color seats. How shameful can it get? READ: New Zealand bowlers shine as South Africa end Day 1 at 236/8

This was not of course the same Kingsmead where Yuvraj Singh had with his six 6’s, set the packed crowd on fire, in the Inaugural T20 World Cup back in 2007. ‘Kingsmead at its feet’ as Ravi Shastri then said, as everyone enjoyed the moment. Contrary to that, there was pin-drop silence at Kingsmead on Day One. And there could be a few reasons for that.

South Africa cricket is not what it was. The team has seen a slump in form, injuries have bogged them down, defeats have left them with bruises to heal from. The back-to-back Test series losses to England and India have cost them a lot. Their players are not as young as they were, have become older. Their captain has injured himself. The team is trying to rebuild. But then, this is their chance to begin their revival. This is the chance to climb up the rankings, reclaim their Test potentials. And therefore, this is the time, the team needs fans to support them, cheer for them. They can’t be so unforgiving when the chips are down. A team cannot always be No.1. Times change.

The racial quota introduced and under-achievements in the other formats could also be a reason. South Africa cricket is going through a bad phase. Perhaps the board, is not bothered about the empty stands. A major trophy has been lacking from their cabinet since a long time now. And is anyone really bothered about the selection on color basis rule? Are the fans bothered about it? Do they understand the pros and cons of it? That’s a tough one to answer.

Nevertheless, another question that the empty stands on Day One bring up, is perhaps the most worrisome question of all. Is Test cricket dying? Michael Holding in 2015, said “I think Test cricket is slowly dying. I don’t think it will die eventually – but I think it will lose its relevance, which his pretty much the same thing as dying. I would love to see Test cricket revived in that a lot of people now show more interest in that form of the game.”

The recent success of the England and Pakistan series which saw the visitors level up the series at 2-2, after a thrilling one month of cricket is surely a good sign for the format. But then England has always seen, people coming out in large numbers. Isn’t it? Call it their culture, or love for the game, they have always seen big crowds.

Then how did the Australia versus Sri Lanka series see people turning out in large numbers? Underdogs vs World No.1? Perhaps. And who does not love Australia losing wickets like a pack of cards. There was a team the world envies, participating. Their fall to hand Sri Lanka a 3-0 whitewash had to therefore be a gala time of fans.

This points to another reason as to why there was almost no turnout for Day One in Durban. There is no ‘pantomime villain’ in a battle between South Africa and New Zealand. The Kiwis are known to be the perfect brand of cricket. They are liked, most importantly. No side takes harsh feelings even if they are beaten by them. They of course, as Brendon McCullum’s career illustrates, try to play the game in the right ‘spirit’.

And, yet a few other reasons for empty stands could also be the absence of AB de Villiers due to injury. De Villiers is brings excitement in the game with his 360 degree shots. His approach and execution is a delight for anyone watching. He is simply a crowd puller. And his absence, as captain and player in the side, might be one of the factors why there were so few spectators.

Well, all we can hope for is that, if the rain stays away, Durbanites will come out in large numbers to watch two high-quality sides compete in what is expected to be an action-packed series. With the weekend in store, hopefully the numbers will increase and the atmosphere will lighten up.

(Karan Dewana reporter with CricketCountry, loves following and playing sports. He is a Team India fan and loves winning. Follow him on his twitter handle @karan13dewan)