The South African and New Zealand teams confirmed that they wanted to play despite the soft outfield, which means the fiasco of the abandoned first Test lies squarely at the door of the umpires following the fifth and final day being called off before the scheduled start of play on Tuesday at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead in Durban.
English umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth once again ruled that the outfield was unsafe on Tuesday morning, despite the sun shining brightly on a beautiful day in Durban, thereby finally killing off a Test match – which is already an endangered species – they never showed much inclination to revive in the first place.
“It’s a good question,” Proteas captain Faf du Plessis said when asked why they weren’t playing cricket. “Obviously both teams are extremely disappointed because we were dying to get out there. The rain on the second night was the big problem and then it’s up to the umpires.
“We wanted to play, but the modern game allows the umpires to decide and their general feeling was that it was unsafe, especially for sprinting or sudden movements. It’s a difficult call because obviously the teams would be upset if someone suffers an injury, especially to one of your strike bowlers. But if we get told to play, we will do it.
“It’s one of the things cricket has to assess, that other sports carry on in damp conditions but as soon as cricket is a little unsafe, then the umpires are pretty strict. Player safety was their major concern, that’s the message we were getting,” Du Plessis said after the end of play was announced.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson made a similar statement.
“I want to make it very clear that both teams were very keen to play. We respect that the umpires are responsible for the ground though and from arrival in Durban we knew that the outfield was in a pretty poor state and it just couldn’t cope with the rain,” Hesson said.
There were few positives to come out of the Test, which saw South Africa bowled out for 263 in 87.4 overs and New Zealand slipping to 15 for two in 12 overs before the players went off the field for bad light seven minutes before lunch on the second day, never to return.
Du Plessis said he was very pleased with the performance of the opening pair of Stephen Cook and Dean Elgar, who survived the first hour of the match in testing conditions, and the new-ball bowling pair of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, who had rocked New Zealand up front with some superb bowling.
“Winning the toss on a greenish pitch and batting, I thought the opening pair had a real solid partnership, they were really patient and played with authority against a quality attack. We got a pretty good score but we were disappointed we didn’t get 300-350 on the board, we just needed one guy to get 75-100 plus.
“The bowlers were then relentless, they hit excellent areas and there were no free runs. It just showed how important the experience of Dale and Vernon is, they gave the batsmen nothing to hit,” Du Plessis said.
Hesson was similarly pleased with his bowlers and said his batsmen were given a valuable learning experience.
“We gathered a lot of information on their batsmen, we’ve obviously looked at a lot of video footage before, but now we have live action which is even better to work with. We got some swing and we were able to work on subtleties like seam position. Our attack showed that as long as conditions offer a bit, they will offer a challenge.
“Our batsmen were challenged in tricky conditions and that will be good for us going forward,” Hesson said.
With Durban experiencing no rain since the early hours of Sunday morning, it was difficult to understand why the officials could not get what was shaping up into a fascinating contest started again. The series will now be decided in a one-off shootout at Centurion from Saturday, which has left the two camps with contrasting feelings.
“It’s very disappointing that it becomes a one-off. Test cricket is meant to be about who can do it well for the longest, over a three or five Test series. But the guys have been training very hard and are dying to get out there. Touch wood there won’t be any rain in Centurion,” Du Plessis said.
“We’re excited that it will be a one-off, everybody’s frustrated now but it’s really set up for Centurion. I know the changeroom is very excited about that and there’s certainly no lack of context for us – to win a series here would be a huge achievement,” Hesson said.