Cape Town – Several potential impediments lie ahead to the possibility of SuperSport Park posting a handsome overall gate for the first Test between South Africa and Pakistan.
One is already fairly obvious: the contest is moving at lightning pace following day one, when more than 300 runs were lashed but 15 wickets also tumbled.
Then there is the vexing question of the Centurion-based venue’s pitch, which stubbornly clings to a recent reputation – it arguably began in earnest when Australian thump-it-in hitman Mitchell Johnson wreaked havoc with 12/127 in February 2014 – for an “up and down” hallmark far earlier than connoisseurs might like in a Test match.
With one or two balls creeping through at the height of a dust-buster working a grubby carpet on Wednesday, how the surface behaves for the remainder of the fixture remains to be seen – and may already have some home officials more than a little nervous about possible repercussions.
But the weather is another party-pooper in waiting: forecasts stoically point to significant rain disruption from roughly the middle of day three onward as the Highveld heatwave does a little more, it seems, than simply “break”.
Still, some of those hazards are beyond human control and the Boxing Day occasion itself earned a critical, resounding tick for finally restoring the type of gate receipts and atmosphere befitting it in the South African landscape.
For reasons that aren’t always easy to pinpoint, this height-of-holiday date on the Test roster – a perfect one for sport-watching relaxation, you’d think – just hasn’t cut it at the turnstiles for many years.
The Boxing Day Test, for that reason, has ping-ponged uncomfortably between coastal cities Durban and Port Elizabeth without ever proving a viable, durable product attendance-wise.
So Cricket South Africa took the brave decision earlier this year to challenge the theory that it is futile staging it on the Highveld in late December because so many of its people – supposedly – have migrated to the seaside.
Not everyone has the inclination, or suitably deep coffers, to make the trek on our dangerous roads to waves and white sands over the festive season, and remember also that SuperSport Park (always popular because of its unusually expansive tracts of grass banks) effectively serves two major metropolises in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Wednesday offered up eye-opening confirmation, really, that there’s no place like home to many Highvelders, clearly chuffed into the bargain by the prospect of decent live entertainment on their relative doorstep straight after the Christmas culinary indulgences.
While some reports of a “full house” seemed far-fetched for the supposedly 20,000-capacity stadium, it looked not far off two-thirds or even three-quarters full at the peak of the day – the fatiguing heat clearly took a toll even on the hardiest of sun-worshippers as play advanced to the third session – and that was a rosy development for both Jacques Faul’s host union and the senior personnel at CSA.
In short, there was an unmistakable Boxing Day “vibe” for a change … and perhaps not only because the local cricket public were seduced to the ground by the likelihood (it transpired in the first session) of seeing a long-favourite son, Dale Steyn, advance to status as the country’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker.
Whatever happens from a gate perspective in the rest of this Test match, all-important day one was quite sufficient to make it appear logical that the fixture now earns an extended opportunity to gradually cement itself as cultural, if you like, at Centurion.
Put it this way: day one’s attendance there may have been enough already to match or eclipse the full-game figure for some prior Tests over the period at either of Kingsmead – especially – or St George’s Park.
Keep in mind that the current Test doesn’t even feature one of the fellow “big four” nations as the Proteas’ opponents.
But that will occur next season – the itinerary is expected in the next few weeks – when England and their beer-guzzling Barmy Army arrive for a full, four-Test series.
The Boxing Day Test, assuming the great likelihood there is one?
My increasingly firm bet, just based on Wednesday’s developments, is SuperSport Park.
Especially if the pitch can be made just a touch less sporty by then …
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