Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

On Sunday morning a friend texted: 'You watching the big bash, or the domestic stuff down in Australia?' On one channel, you could be in Cape Town as Ben Stokes slaughtered the bowling attack of the world's No. 1 side; one click and you were in Brisbane at the Gabba to see the Heat play the Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash T20 League. What a joy to be in South Africa -- well, via TV -- for the most extraordinary innings of this century. It was quicker than most T20 matches and much more brutal.

I thought there were just three great batsmen in the world right now: Steve Smith, Joe Root, and A.B. de Villiers. With Kane Williamson thereabouts. But now add Ben Stokes. You would pay to watch all of them: but maybe now Stokes, like Botham, will bring the City to a halt as he walks out to bat. Let's hope so.

If every day of Test cricket had a Ben Stokes in it, the grounds would be packed as Newlands was. But the crowds for the first Test at Durban were desultory. And if every day of Test cricket had Hashim Amla's dogged 201 off 477 balls then even Test addicts like me might think twice before shelling out. In the final Test against India in Delhi last year South Africa scored 143 in 143 overs; yes a run an over. Amla batted an incredible 244 balls for his 25. At Newlands, Stokes's 258 came off 198 balls. Outside the Ashes, even Aussie crowds for Tests are poor. Only in England do we deliver big crowds. It needs to be addressed or this great format of the greatest game will start to wither.

Meanwhile, Chris Gayle, the West Indies opener turned T20 cash machine, got a ferocious rollicking for some leery remarks to an alluring interviewer. He said Mel McLaughlin had terrific eyes and would she like a drink later? Not on, said a chorus of largely simulated outrage.

For heaven's sake, Gayle is a graduate of the Tyson Fury school of political correctness and a man not known for his aversion to the opposite sex. …

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