However, it was heartening to hear two of the fast bowlers involved in the series between South Africa and England speak so passionately on Tuesday about their love and enthusiasm for the longest format of the game.
In terms of Test experience, there is a massive divide between England’s leader of the attack, Jimmy Anderson, a veteran of 111 Tests, and South African all-rounder Chris Morris, who made his debut last week in Cape Town. But they shared the same passion for Test cricket when they spoke to the media on Tuesday, ahead of the third Test starting at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Thursday.
”There is a slight worry with domestic T20 competitions around the world doing so well. But there is still that passion to play Test cricket, it’s a test of character and skill to be able to perform in this format. It still excites me to play this game, I prioritise it in my head and my heart,” Anderson said.
“I’m not the only person who feels like that in the world. Hopefully it’s not just players but fans too, but we need people to keep supporting the Test game so that it does flourish.
“My heart is with playing Test cricket for England, so that is what I’ll concentrate on doing for the foreseeable future. At the moment, where I am at this stage of my career, I want to make sure I’m in good nick to play Test match cricket for England. A couple of months off won’t be a bad thing. I’ll make sure I come back for Lancashire at the start of the season and get ready for the Test matches at the start of the summer. That’s where my head is at,” the swing bowler said in confirming that he would not be trying to get into any of the numerous T20 circuses around the world.
Morris, of course, first came to international prominence at the IPL, but the millions of rands and fans earned in that tournament could not match the raw emotion of making his Test debut.
“The call-up came during a four-day game for the Titans and coach Rob Walter said I have to join the Test squad in Cape Town. I straight away had the sunglasses on, just to hide the tears – I’m a softie like that – and straight away phoned my Dad [Willie Morris, the former Northern Transvaal spinner], which brought more snot en trane.
“I made a promise to my parents that if I ever made my Test debut, I would fly them to the game, wherever it was. So it was very special to have them there in Cape Town for my debut. It’s been a lifelong dream to play Test cricket, my Mom says I told her when I was three that I would play Test cricket for South Africa one day. So I felt like a pig in mud,” Morris said.
The match itself was also an emotional experience for Morris, his fortunes fluctuating dramatically. On the first morning, he bowled a tidy opening spell and took a sensational catch at third slip to dismiss England captain Alastair Cook off one-time Highveld Lions team-mate Kagiso Rabada.
But then, when the second new ball was taken towards the end of the day, Morris was put to the sword by an inspired Ben Stokes, with the slaughter continuing on the second day. Having finished with figures of one for 150 in 28 overs, Morris then came to the crease for his maiden innings with the bat with South Africa in trouble again on 449 for six, three wickets having tumbled for 10 runs.
But the 28-year-old scored an invaluable 69 as he and the history-making Temba Bavuma brought the Proteas all but level with England on first innings. The final day then brought joy with the ball as Morris took one for 24 in 12 fiery overs, bowling England’s best batsman, Joe Root, with an absolute jaffa to claim his prized wicket for the second time in the match. He also took another exceptional catch in the slips to remove Alex Hales.
“It was one big rollercoaster of emotions! The first two days were a baptism of fire and the whole game was just unbelievably long – I remember on Day Four thinking ‘we’ve still got another full day to go!’
“The main thing I learnt in the first innings was not to bowl to Ben Stokes! No, you’ve got to take it on the chin, he played incredibly well, never in my life have I seen anything like that. I was a bundle of nerves, so anything can happen, but I gave everything, I always run in and give my all. I learnt my lengths and lines needed to be a bit different and there was a slight improvement in the second innings,” Morris said.
The Pretoria Boys’ High product now hopes to make a niche for himself in the Test side as a bowling all-rounder, with national coach Russell Domingo suggesting the great names of Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener as role-models to emulate.
“If I can have half-as-good a career as Shaun and Lance, that would be unbelievable, it’s cool just to be compared to them. The batting is a big responsibility, it takes quite a lot of effort, but I enjoy the workload. It’s a nice role to have and it would be special to make it my own.
“I get challenged every day at the Titans, so you learn something new, and I changed my whole approach to practising batting. It’s just about hitting balls in the nets, but doing it with the intent to learn something,” Morris said.
While Morris had a daunting debut on a flat, well-baked Newlands pitch, the Wanderers should provide a spicier wicket. It is a venue where Morris had a lot of success with the Highveld Lions – 38 wickets in eight matches at an average of 19.81.
“The Wanderers is a result pitch, it’s always like that and there were very few draws the years I played here. There’s always something in it for the bowlers, extra bounce and pace, and we had times when you think the pitch is flat but then a couple of wickets fall very quickly. I’ve seen spinners take five-fors here as well, so they can do a job too.
“But if you’re not as patient as you should be, then you’ll go the distance. You need a slight alteration in length at the Wanderers, but you have to be patient. But for me it doesn’t matter what the pitch looks like, you still have to rock up and bowl properly on it. You can read too much into a pitch, guys saying ‘ooh, there’s a bit of grass’ and then the opposition are 150 for none.
“It can go either way: If you’re not patient enough then you can go for big runs or you can lose a whole lot of wickets,” Morris said.
The Wanderers has had more than its fair share of dramatic Test matches in the recent past: the previous Test there was against India in December 2013 when South Africa finished eight runs short of a record 458-run chase; England’s last visit there, exactly six years ago, ended in an innings defeat; before that, in 2005, Matthew Hoggard took seven wickets on the final day as the hosts were bowled out in less than 60 overs.