It was around the millennium and Waugh’s indomitable Test side was at the peak of their powers. Also at the peak of his powers was Jacques Kallis, who was just establishing himself as the undisputed world’s best all-rounder.
He had become the solid mainstay of the Proteas top-order and he also still possessed some serious gas with the ball. So Waugh, who after retirement openly declared Kallis as the greatest all-rounder the game has ever produced, made a good point. Even though they conquered all before them, the Aussie suggested that his team had a great desire to measure themselves against an in-form Kallis.
At that stage their next meeting in a Test was almost two years away and according to Waugh that was just too long a time too waste when something sooner could be arranged.
Watching the Proteas dismantle a rubbish Sri Lankan touring party over the last few weeks, I thought back to what Waugh said all those years ago. Over the last six months, there have been two very dominant Test sides: India and South Africa. India beat the West Indies 2-0 away and continued their good form on home soil by beating New Zealand 3-0 and England 4-0, whereas the Proteas overcame the Kiwis 1-0 at home, recorded an historic third consecutive win Down Under and predictably swept Sri Lanka 3-0.
Going on the form book, India should beat Australia at home in their upcoming series and the Proteas the Kiwis in New Zealand. That would mean that India will strengthen their position at the top of the rankings, and the Proteas will climb from No 3 to No 2. But, and here’s the catch, they are only set to meet at the end of the year when South Africa host India in three Tests.
A lot can happen over the course of a year and with the subcontinental sides’ traditional nonchalance regarding quick and bouncy pitches, that series could easily be a one-sided affair. Now here’s where Waugh’s point is so valid. If we have two sides whose potential match-up can spark some serious fireworks, why not strike when the iron is hot and pit them against each other now?
I know there are mountains of admin to consider in the greater scheme of things for cricket world bosses and that tours and series are planned years in advance. But I’m not suggesting we change any of that.
But, playing day-night Tests isn’t the only way to breathe new life into the five-day format. Especially with the debate over the possibility of a world Test championship being around for so long. There is a way of swatting two flies with one klap. What about saving one annual opening in the schedule for a super Test shootout by pitting the two form sides against each other? It will take three-and-half weeks with one home Test for each and a further Test at a neutral venue.
And then the winner can be crowned the world Test champion for the year. If we want to entrench cricket’s purest form, we must think further than pink balls. Right Steve?