PAUL BERKOWITZ leaves the cricket traditionalists behind and joins the ADHD generation for the second T20 between South Africa and Australia on Sunday.
A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Cricket Purists’ Secret Convocation. I ended up at a T20 cricket game between South Africa and Australia. You can judge me in your own time, but first listen to my tale of confusion.
I wouldn’t normally attend one of these hits-and-giggles affairs, but I happened to buy a season ticket to the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium a month ago, allowing me access to all international T20, ODI and Test matches for the summer season, plus all domestic matches involving the Highveld Lions, plus many other forbidden pleasures. So it was that I made my way to the Bullring to bear witness to a rearguard action from the Proteas that enabled them to level the two-game series. Not that you’ll remember any of this a month from now.
Public opinion, be not proud. I am a Test fan through and through. But when it’s been 10 months and counting since a Proteas Test and you’re jonesing for cricket action, what are you going to do?
So it was that I found myself at the Rosebank Gautrain station at 13h10 on Sunday afternoon, waiting for a Gautrain feeder bus thingie to ferry me along Oxford Road to the stadium via Corlette Drive. I’d been bragging to anyone within earshot how I was going to benefit from this door-to-door public transport. And it did arrive, and it was air-conditioned and equipped with the latest in Rihanna singles, but it stopped quite a few metres short of Wanderers. I was hardly mollified.
The stadium itself was buzzing with a motley yet diverse bunch of Proteas fans baking in the heat. It’s been a hot, dry spring on the Highveld, and there were a handful of sad, isolated cumulus clouds in the sky, specks of candy-floss bleached white. When I picked up my season ticket from the ticket office, I saw that the official Test sponsor of the national cricket team had included tokens for nine free units of their product. Muttering to myself that misery loves company, and that national pride was a short, downhill road to alcoholism, I made my way to the bar and settled in for the short-haul stopover that is T20.
I came to a few realisations. Firstly, T20 really is just ODI on steroids. I know, hardly an original observation, but you really have to leave your Ritalin at home to appreciate the frantic atmosphere. You have six short overs of field restrictions where you can almost appreciate a vague approximation of an attacking field (look chaps, a second slip) and then the field is spread and you’re staring at a hit-and-miss montage. Throw in a glorified drumming circle, some hootchie dancers-cum-cheerleaders and some thudding “house” music brought to you courtesy of the 20th century and you can almost feel your alcohol-marinated brain doing back-flips in your skull.
I learnt that I was completely wrong in my assessment of the Australian enfantes terribles. All three of the Australian debutantes more than justified their place in the Australian T20 team, particularly young Pat Cummings who after just two games had taken five wickets and has one of the lowest averages in the T20 form of the game. The fact that he can only go downhill from here is a source of great comfort to me.
I also learnt that this T20 game can turn on a knife’s edge from over to over. I was walking out on the Proteas in the 16th over of their innings, when they looked dead and buried. As I was lurching towards freedom and the promise of a Joburg evening, the sustained cheers of the crowd drew me back to the stadium. Wayne Parnell, having suffered a spanking at the hands of the Australian batsmen, was returning the favour with interest. I stayed to watch Parnell and Rusty Theron put on 64 runs off only 27 balls for the eighth wicket partnership to ensure South Africa took home a share of the T20 spoils. It could easily have been an Australian whitewash.
Lastly, I learnt that the word on “Cricket Street” is remarkably similar to the voices in my head, which cheered me up no end. It’s gratifying to know that this sport really is a form of mass hysteria and you’re not the only crazy one. My new friends and I agree on the following things: Amla could make a good captain, but he won’t. Smith should be dropped from the limited-overs formats to work on his Test game. Tsotsobe has to be your first-choice bowler in the shorter game, but he may never make the step up to Tests. None of these are earth-shattering revelations, but when you’re suffering the onslaught of sensory overload, merely following an argument to its logical conclusion can feel like a revolutionary act.
T20 cricket is a commodity, like the Anat falafel I had after the match. It’s formulaic, bite-sized and over-salted and it’s a huge hit with fans. It’s the Sweet Valley High instalments to Test cricket’s War and Peace. I hold out hope that it will lead to the demise of ODIs and free up more time for Test cricket. Even if it doesn’t, you may find me at another T20 game when the craving for something like cricket overwhelms me. DM
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.