WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — As cricket fans savor two of the most thrilling finishes in test match history, New Zealand is preparing to play South Africa in a series that some say will damage the status of the longer format of the game.
But at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui from Sunday, New Zealand will face a South Africa team entirely stripped of its leading players who have been kept at home for a domestic Twenty20 series.
New Zealand has mostly been diplomatic about the selection of the Proteas team which features eight uncapped players, including its captain Neil Brand. But other voices have been raised in strident criticism of South Africa’s decision to give a local T20 competition priority over a test series.
Former Australia captain Steve Waugh said the Proteas selection showed South Africa “obviously doesn’t care” about test cricket.
“Is this a defining moment in the death of test cricket?” Waugh wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “History and tradition must count for something. If we stand by and allow profits to be the defining criteria, the legacy of Bradman, Grace and Sobers will be irrelevant.”
In a subsequent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Waugh called for concerted action to save tests.
“If the ICC or someone doesn’t step in shortly then test cricket doesn’t become test cricket because you’re not testing yourself against the best players,” he said. “I understand why players don’t come. They’re not getting paid properly.
“I don’t understand why the ICC or the top countries who are making a lot of money don’t just have a regulation premium set fee for test matches so people are incentivized to play test cricket.”
New Zealand now finds itself in a no-win situation in the two-test series. The Black Caps haven’t lost a test series at home since March 2017 but has never beaten South Africa in a test series.
If it wins the upcoming series, the achievement will be devalued by the quality of the South Africa team; if it loses it may face ridicule.
Former captain Kane Williamson, who has recovered from a hamstring strain and will play in the first test, said New Zealand has to put those considerations aside.
“For us, we just want to focus on the cricket that we want to play and the plans that we have and that doesn’t change from opposition to opposition,” he said.
“So we are under no illusions that it is going to be a tough contest for sure. They are all very good players and we just want to keep bringing the focus back to our cricket.”
New Zealand currently is third place in the Test Championship behind Australia and South Africa. The Black Caps could move up to second with a series win.
“Any win anywhere is crucial,” Williamson said. “That’s why it is difficult to micro-manage a Test Championship campaign . . . it’s such a long period of time and the games can come a bit sporadically.”
Bland said South Africa also needs to ignore external chatter about the series.
“Obviously going over to New Zealand, making your debut and captaining is quite interesting and probably quite rare,” he said. I am obviously delighted.
“This (Proteas) team has 96 games per player as an average. That’s a lot of first-class cricket in the group. There’s a lot of experience in terms of domestic cricket and that has to count for something. There’s not a lot of test matches but you’ve still got to see it as a positive. I don’t think anyone has any baggage.”
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