Test cricket wanders past

Wandering past the Wanderers is test cricket.

The Wanderers is the largest and most prestigious cricket ground in South Africa and one of the most legendary in the world of cricket. However, it won’t host a Test for at least three and a half years. That’s unfortunate for fans, but it will probably save the stadium a substantial sum of money.

The most recent Wanderers men’s Test will take place in March 2023 when South Africa plays the West Indies. Since then, only two matches have taken place in the nation: one in January 2023 at Newlands versus India, and the other in December 2023 at Centurion.

The four men’s Test matches between South Africa and Pakistan are slated to take place at Kingsmead, St. George’s Park, Centurion, and Newlands between November and January of next year. The home fixtures for South Africa were made public by the CSA on Friday. In September 2026, South Africa will host three men’s Test matches at home against Australia. Johannesburg can only anticipate returning to the roster at that point.

In addition to hosting the 44 Test matches for the Wanderers, which have produced 60 centuries and 54 five-wicket catches, it also served as the site of the men’s World Cup final in 2003 and the men’s World T20 final in 2007. It is probably going to host the men’s World Cup final in 2027.

Only Newlands and Kingsmead, out of the 11 venues in South Africa that have hosted Test matches, have played more matches than the Wanderers. Since readmission in 1991, only Newlands should be included.

Aside from the actual facts, Merv Hughes struck an aggressive fan with a bat at the Wanderers in March 1994, which led to the construction of the plexiglass tunnel that still connects the dressing room from the boundary. It’s the place where, in January 1995, tense discussions to keep Pakistan’s tour afloat occurred when Saqlain Mushtaq and Mohammad Akram said they had been mugged outside a Johannesburg nightclub caused the start of the Test to be postponed by one day. It was there in March 2006 that South Africa defeated Australia 438 to win the match. And where was the calm, collected guy Michael Holding when he called the pitch in the January 2018 Test match against India “shit”?

The Wanderers is a location to enjoy beers, braais, babelaas (the Afrikaans term for hangover), and some of the best conceivable entertainment during a sporting event. Although it’s not the most beautiful cricket ground in South Africa, it is without a doubt the most South African.

Nevertheless, in the real world, none of those numbers and facts matter more than the USD135,000 that South Africa’s grounds would have to pay to host a single Test. Every Test, CSA pays their provincial unions USD 19,000 in hosting costs. The venue keeps 40% of ticket sales proceeds, which can reach up to USD 10 per ticket, and also generates money from the sale of hospitality suites. However, if the opponent is not as strong as Australia, England, India, or, to a lesser extent, Pakistan, there is no chance to even break even, much less turn a profit. It’s sometimes a genuine discussion if there are more food vendors and security officers at the 28,000-cap Wanderers than patrons.

In domestic cricket, the equation is exponentially more lopsided. The CSA T20 Challenge’s division one matches took place between March 8 and April 28. Each game cost the Wanderers USD16,200, and the venues that hosted them were paid USD1,335 each. The tiny crowds and lack of interest in the hospitality suites did not even partially offset the losses.

Nevertheless, the news that the Pakistanis will not be visiting Gauteng to play a Test next summer has caused sadness among the cricket community there. And not just because the residents want to bring up the January 1995 nightclub incident with the tourists. Despite its imperfections, Johannesburg is a proud city, so it does not sit well to be ignored once more following their exclusion from the India Tests the previous season.

However, Durban and Gqeberha gain from Johannesburg’s loss. Since the Test series against Bangladesh in March and April of 2022, St George’s Park and Kingsmead have not held any Test matches. Is a Test series truly happening in South Africa if it doesn’t visit St George’s Park, which is essentially the home ground of cricket in the country? Furthermore, why shouldn’t the USD $1 million in upgrades completed at Kingsmead since Heinrich Strydom took over as CEO in July 2017 be acknowledged?

But was holding a test worth the asking price in the contemporary world, with its short attention span and need for nonstop, full-color excitement? “It remains the benchmark,” Strydom stated to Cricbuzz. “There’s also the benefit of the five-day TV exposure. I will absolutely still say “yes” if the opposition is strong and the hosting date makes sense, such as around Boxing Day.”

The Wanderers would agree and be content to bide their time until 2026, quietly thanking themselves.