If, as the curious saying goes, Test cricket has a habit of biting you on the backside if you disrespect it, then the timing of the Newlands cliffhanger could hardly have been more apposite. A mere days after it emerged that the ICC is considering the introduction of mandatory four-day Test cricket, England and South Africa served up a fifth-day finish to savour, to leave their series all square at 1-1 with two to play.
And speaking in the aftermath of an emotional finish – in which England sealed victory with just 8.4 overs left in the final day’s play – both captains Joe Root and Faf du Plessis, as well as the Player of the Match, Ben Stokes, praised the format for its ability to produce such soaring contests, in spite of the numerous threats posed by player workloads, crowded scheduling and finances.
“When you have series in which the first few games are results, it makes things very interesting,” said Stokes during the post-match presentations. “And that’s why five-day cricket should always be around.
“It’s the best format of the game. And with games like these, it makes cricket just unforgettable. And we will remember this for a long time and I’m sure South Africa will remember it for a long time as well. It will go down as one of the greats.”
On the final morning of the match, Cricket South Africa issued a strongly worded rebuttal to a report, in the Daily Mail, stating that the board was not in favour of the move to four-day cricket, and pointed out that they had, in fact, hosted the first official four-day Test match against Zimbabwe in 2017.
However, du Plessis made it clear that he was not keen on any reduction in the status of the sport’s oldest format.
“I am a fan of Test cricket going five days,” he said. “The great draws of the game go five days. I understand there is a lot of money being burnt on day-five cricket because a lot of Test matches are not going five days. But I am still a purist of the game because I have been part of some great draws and today is no different.
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“There would definitely not have been a result in four days on this pitch,” he added, after England had declared on the fourth afternoon on 391 for 8. “That’s what makes it special, to have Stokes, shattered and still running in and we are trying to survive. That’s what makes the extra day so special.
“Obviously I’m sad that we are on the losing side, but all I’m asking for from a team-mate today is that we fought and fought really hard. And we did that, and over five days. Unfortunately, there has to be a winner and a loser, and credit for England for having just a little bit more in the tank than we had. It was a great Test match, and in big series like these, you want two teams to bash it out for five days, and the next Test will be very exciting.”
Root, whose young side showed immense character to bounce back from a dispiriting loss in the series opener at Centurion, added his own support to the five-day formula.
“Some people might think there’s a place for [four-day cricket] but you don’t want to miss out on days like today,” he said. “You don’t want to miss out on games like this. This is what makes Test cricket what it is. To go right down to the wire, nearly a full house at Newlands, half of it English support, and what a great finish to a brilliant game of cricket.”