I grew up at a time when Test cricket was the only form of the game. My early years were spent dreaming of playing for my country in Test cricket.
Every waking hour was spent outdoors pretending to be my heroes; Neil Harvey, Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson and Norm O’Neill.
One of my earliest memories is of watching Ray Lindwall, Davidson, Benaud and Rorke bowl to the Englishmen at the Adelaide Oval. Australia won the Test match comfortably, but what I remember most was the battle that the Australians had with the likes of May, Cowdrey and Graveney. It was riveting stuff.
I couldn’t wait to get home to practice what I had seen. For the next few days, I spent hours each day pretending to be the players that I had witnessed. As I threw a tennis ball against the back wall, I created scenarios similar to those that had happened in the real Test match.
Test cricket is as much a battle of wills as a test of skill. For me, Test cricket is still the format that I prefer to establish which individual or team is the best in the game. One-day and T20 cricket have their attractions, but neither of the forms really ‘tests’ all aspects of the individual and team like the original format.
I was lucky enough to play during the first revolution in the late 70’s. Kerry Packer, having been spurned by the Australian administration in his bid for television rights, hired the best players in the world to form a break-away league.
The birth of World Series Cricket spawned, among other things, day-night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls, black sightscreens, helmets and the arrival of the cricket ‘personality’. Packer focused on the 50-over format to differentiate WSC from the traditional game.
It was a resounding success. In the new-fangled age of colour television, new audiences were attracted in their droves and captivated by this fast version of the old game. Rather than killing the more sedate format, this interloper actually gave it an injection of adrenalin that saved its bacon as a new generation, including women and children, streamed into cricket grounds. More importantly, they were irresistibly drawn to the television screen.
T20 cricket has arrived at a time when crowd numbers for Test cricket have dropped alarmingly; particularly in India.
Many factors have contributed to the attraction of this jaunty format. Leisure time is in short supply and people want their sport to fit into a briefer, more convenient time slot. It also has to compete with other forms of entertainment.
Television has supported this view because the bash and slash format fits into prime viewing time. The success of the various T20 Leagues has distorted the cricket landscape as never before. The desire for success by the franchises has pushed up player fees to levels that cannot be sustained outside of India. This has led to the hoovering up of the leading talent from nations that will never be able to compete on the open market.
The Test series between Australia and the West Indies earlier this year was a case in point. Australia won the series 2-0 in a hard fought contest that the West Indies had to fight with the equivalent of one hand tied behind its back without key players Gayle, Pollard, Bravo and Narine.
Thankfully, South Africa and Sri Lanka will bring full-strength teams to Australia this summer for their three-match Test series to which I am really looking forward. After a surfeit of T20 cricket over the past few months I am ready for some tough, hard-fought Test cricket.
The series against South Africa is first and will pit two hard competitors in a contest that could take Australia back to the top of the rankings should we win. South Africa has a very experienced team that outplayed England in England to wrest the number one position from them and will not relinquish their mantle easily.
This series will be a contest between two teams strong in pace, but light on spin bowling. South Africa seems to have the more settled batting line up so the team that can build competitive totals will give themselves the best chance.
Players to watch from South Africa will be Steyn, probably the fastest bowler in world cricket, Amla, who has been in career best form with the bat, Jacques Kallis, one of the great all-rounders of all time and Vernon Philander who raced to 50 wickets in his first seven Tests.
The Africans have done well in Australia before and have the sort of attack that will be suited to Brisbane and Perth’s fast, bouncy wickets. Their batsmen generally handle pace bowling well.
Australia will rely on their experienced bowling spearheads Siddle and Hilfenhaus supported by one or more of the young tyro’s, Pattinson, Cummins and Starc and will hope that the top order can fire and that Clarke, Ponting and Hussey can reprise their form of last summer.
South Africa, on the other hand, will hope that their fragility in big series does not let them down again.