Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Anticipation and excitement appear to be even greater ahead of the third Test at St George’s Park than they were before the first Test at Centurion when locals still had an excess of apprehension to cope with following the last-gasp rebuilding of the coaching team.

The loss of James Anderson is a blow to England but none of the three replacement options will weaken the tourists starting XI. All rounder Chris Woakes, all-out fast man Mark Wood and Jofra Archer (provided he doesn’t overdo the bouncer) are quality cricketers.

The hosts are keen to squeeze in-form Cobras swing bowler Dane Paterson into the line-up but it’s unlikely to happen. If they do it will be in place of Dwaine Pretorius which weakens the batting.

That may not be too much of a concern on what promises to be a true and trustworthy batting surface. Spinner Keshav Maharaj may not be at his best but he will surely play.

One aspect of the Test match which will not change is the use of  stump microphones which have been, once again, the subject of debate this week after England keeper Jos Buttler was fined 15% of his match fee in Cape Town for calling Vernon Philander a “f***ing knobhead” during the tense final moments of the tourists victory.

Buttler is among the gentlest of international cricketers and, truth be told, his choice of invective caused a great deal of mirth among professionals around the world. Is that really all he could come up with in the heat of battle after he’d just been hit on the side of the head by a fielder’s throw (which Philander had inadvertently blocked from the keeper’s view)?

Buttler apologised a couple of days ago, though not to Philander. He said he understood the importance of being a good role model and said he’d try harder in future. He described the R28,000 fine as a “slap on the wrist” and said, with a smile, that he would “wash his mouth out with soap.” (The England match fee, incidentally, works out to approximately R186,500 — more than double SA’s.)

Finally, Buttler said the stump mics should be turned off once the batsman had played the ball and only turned back on again when the bowler was ready for the next delivery.

Ordinarily I’m strongly in favour of the players having a strong say in how the game is run, as tennis players do with the ATP and golfers with the PGA and R&A. They know the sport better than most administrators and they know their own physical limitations.

Mandatory drinks breaks, compulsory periods of rest between games, concussion substitutions — all excellent player initiatives.

The Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA) has called for “consistency” and bemoaned the fact that more and more broadcasters are making the decision to leave stump mics live despite guidelines from the ICC to at least turn them down between deliveries.

There is a good reason for that: broadcasters know what their audience wants and what makes good viewing. 

There was a time when televised tennis courts only had microphones at the net. Now they are all over the court. When players had a dispute with the umpire, the sound was turned down. Now it is turned up.

Conversations between golfers and their caddies are now broadcast, which makes for fascinating television. We don’t just want to see what professional sports people are doing, we want to hear what they are thinking.

There are two reasons for players wanting mics turned down. The first is that they are foul-mouthed bullies who believe it is their right to abuse their opponents in whatever manner they see fit — just “part of the game”.

Nathan Lyon and David Warner said in 2019 that the mics should be turned off.

Or it is to protect the “innocent” should they happen to make a largely innocent, out-of-character comment courtesy of a surge of adrenaline. It still doesn’t cut it. They are performers on a stage and they should never be, or want to be, hidden from their audience.  

For over a century cricketers were overworked, underpaid, largely underappreciated and almost always tossed aside like confectionary wrappers when their time was up, no care given to their emotional well-being after years of personal sacrifice.

I’m one of the strongest advocates I know of player unions and the fight for fair and proper work conditions and commensurate remuneration.

Last summer Australian captain Tim Paine used the stump mics rather then resented them.

“You don’t really like your captain, do you? Great batsman, sure, but not a great bloke — is he?” Paine asked a bemused Indian batsman.

Stump mics are hear to stay.

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