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26th-Dec-2017

South Africa and Zimbabwe plunge into the unknown

By Agency


Five years ago, Cricket South Africa decided to try something new over Boxing Day. Instead of host a Test, as has become a (modern, in this country) tradition, they opted to play limited-overs matches against New Zealand in the hope that the shorter format would encourage a more festive vibe. But they misread the mood severely and were met with a barrage of complaints from people who were expecting to see players in whites in the week between Christmas and New Year.
Yes, even though stadiums are only a quarter-full, if that, over the Boxing Day, South Africans enjoy the fixture (even if only from the comfort of their living rooms) and CSA resolved not to experiment like that again.
Yet, here we are.
Because India took their time confirming fixtures and ultimately decided they would only be ready to play in 2018, CSA opted to schedule this year's Boxing Day match over four days and under lights. The ICC has agreed it can be a called a Test but there are doubters, the most prominent of which are the South African players. As recently as October, Test captain Faf du Plessis and opening batsman Dean Elgar rubbished the idea of four-day Tests and now they find themselves playing one. Some fans are unhappy with the concept too, others with the quality of the opposition, but all in all, the next four days could end up being nothing more than a bit of fun for South Africa.
It's a way to end a tough year, in which the goodwill of victories over Sri Lanka and Bangladesh has been overshadowed by the disappointment of a limp Champions Trophy effort, a Test series loss to England, and the postponement of the T20 Global League, with something positive.
No disrespect to Zimbabwe but much, much tougher contests await their hosts and South Africa could well be regarding this as a warm-up match for India. For Zimbabwe, though, this may be the last Test they play for a while. With financial constraints inhibiting their ability to host Tests, a new Test league all but excluding them, and a World Cup to qualify for, the shorter formats will be their focus in the immediate future but this is an opportunity to make a case to be invited to play more Tests.
So far, Zimbabwe have done the opposite. They lost to a CSA Invitation XI - a team with only four players with franchise experience - in Paarl and will need every member of their XI to perform if they are to compete.
As a country, Zimbabwe will remember 2017 as a year of some progress because it was the year Robert Mugabe's 37-year presidency ended. As a cricket team that performed well in Sri Lanka before losing to West Indies at home, the next four days may determine their assessment of themselves this year.