By Robson Sharuko
Harare – Africa’s only two Test cricket playing nations – Zimbabwe and South Africa – will make history on Boxing Day this year when they engage in the first four-day pink-ball day/night Test battle in Port Elizabeth that has been granted the blessings of the International Cricket Council as part of a trial programme to evaluate such a radical change in the game.
The match, which gets underway on December 26, will be a fitting close to celebrations to mark 140 years of Test cricket around the world with the first official Test match having been a showdown between old rivals England and Australia which got underway on March 15, 1877 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne.
While the first Test match was played on the shores of Port Phillip Bay, in Australia, with the hosts winning by 45 runs, the experimental pink-ball four-day final match of the 140th year of Test cricket will be played on the shores of the Indian Ocean island between two countries divided by the Limpopo River.
The South Africans were initially expected to play India but the decision by the powerful Asian country to delay their arrival left the Proteas scrambling for an opponent to fill the gap and play during the Boxing Day Test with the authorities finally finding one in their neighbours Zimbabwe.
Test cricket, considered the highest standard and purest form of the game, is a five-day battle with three sessions per day but South Africa and Zimbabwe will clash in a unique four-day contest which will certainly attract a lot of attention from around the world.
The decision to accord the four-day battle Test status was taken at the ICC Board Meeting in Auckland last week but the world cricket governing body insists that this will only be acceptable as part of a trial and not permanent programme.
“Our priority was to develop an international cricket structure that gave context and meaning across international cricket and particularly in the Test arena,’’ ICC chief executive Dave Richardson said in a statement.
“This has been delivered and every Test in the new League will be a five-day Test format.
“However throughout the discussions about the future of Test cricket it became clear that whilst context is crucial we must also consider alternatives and trial initiatives that may support the future viability of Test cricket.
“The trial is exactly that, a trial, just in the same way day-night Tests and technology have been trialled by Members.
“Four-day Tests will also provide the new Test playing countries with more opportunities to play the longer version of the game against more experienced opponents, which, in turn, will help them to hone their skills and close the gap with the top nine ranked teams.”
The trial period will run until 2019.
South Africa were granted Test status on March 12, 1889, and are the oldest and most powerful Test playing nation on the continent and one of the strongest in the world.
The Proteas waited for 11 matches before they tasted their first Test win although they were not part of the global cricket family between March 10, 1970, and November 10, 1977, after the country was suspended by the ICC because of apartheid.
Zimbabwe were granted Test status on October 18,1992, and this week the country has been celebrating 25 years of Test cricket with the Chevrons scheduled to host West Indies in the first of two Test matches in Bulawayo at Queens Sports Club this weekend.
The Zimbabweans waited for 10 matches before their first Test victory among the big boys.
Zimbabwe coach even suggests that the four-day Test should feature 97 overs a day instead of the traditional 90 overs which are bowled in the five-day game.
“This really is a great opportunity for us to play South Africa,’’ said Streak. “It’s a team that is up there and we need the competition.
“This is also the first time that most of our players will be involved in a day/night Test. I am sure it’s going to be such a wonderful experience.’’
South Africa showed their pedigree by blowing away Bangladesh in the two-Test battle with the Proteas thrashing the Tigers by 333 runs in the first Test and by an innings and 254 runs in the second Test.
New ball bowler Kagiso Rabada has been impressive in his role as the pace spearhead of the South African attack while Zimbabwe has been boosted by the return of former captain Brendan Taylor and seamer Kyle Jarvis from stints in England where they played county cricket.
The ICC also approved a nine-Test league, which will feature South Africa and not Zimbabwe, and a 13-team ODI league which the Chevrons will be part of.
“The ICC Board gave the green light to a nine-team Test league and a 13-team ODI league aimed at bringing context and meaning to bilateral cricket,’’ the organisation said in a statement.
“The schedules of the leagues, due to start in 2019 and 2020 respectively, will now be finalised.
“The Test series league will see nine teams play six series over two years – three home and three away – with each having a minimum of two Tests and a maximum of five and all matches being played over five days culminating in a World Test League Championship Final.
“The ODI league will be a direct qualification pathway towards the ICC Cricket World Cup and will be contested by the 12 Full Members plus the winners of the current ICC World Cricket League Championship. In the first edition of the league, each side will play four home and four away series each comprising of three ODIs moving to all teams playing each other from the second cycle onwards.’’
Zimbabwe will also host the 2019 ICC World Cup qualifier in March next year, which will feature 10 countries, in the biggest single convergence of cricket playing countries in the country in history.
“A number of decisions around event hosts were taken by the ICC Board in Auckland. The ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier will be held in Zimbabwe in March 2018,’’ the ICC said.
“Namibia have been confirmed as the host of the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 in February 2018 whilst the Netherlands have been approved as the host of the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifier 2018.
“The Board approved a revised draft of Player Eligibility Regulations which will come into effect in due course. The key changes include:
• Once a player has qualified to represent a country and has represented that country, he/she shall be considered eligible to play for that country forever more, without having to demonstrate satisfaction of the nationality eligibility criteria at subsequent events or matches.
• The stand out periods which apply when a player seeks to transfer and play for a second country have been amended to a flat three-year period regardless of membership status and gender.
• Given the change to the residency criteria, any player who has qualified for and represented a country in the three-year period leading up to the effective date of the new Regulations, will be deemed to be eligible for that country moving forward, and will not have to demonstrate satisfaction of the new residency criteria.
• Gender Recognition Policy and U19 Age Determination Policy incorporated into Player Eligibility Regulations and one universal disciplinary process will apply to all eligibility matters.’’
Namibia also came for praise from the ICC among the 22 members within the Africa region for having “continued to perform well particularly at Under-19 level.’’