A Set small text size A Set the default text size A Set large text size The cancellation of Australia’s tour of South Africa could have significant ramifications on a cricketing nation already on its knees financially. And if it hadn’t already, COVID-19 is exposing a growing divide between cricket’s haves and have-nots. Earlier this week, South Africa’s second wave and new variant of the virus had left Cricket Australia (CA) with “no choice” but to cancel an upcoming three-Test tour. In a series that appeared all but locked in, Cricket Australia pulled the pin at the “11th hour”. Cricket South Africa did their absolute utmost to meet CA’s demands throughout negotiations. This included putting the Proteas team (plus all hotel staff and match officials) into a biosecure bubble for 14 days prior to Australia’s arrival, organising separate hotels for each team (unlike when Sri Lanka toured recently), and VIP access through the airports after a special government sign-off. Yet the tour was still deemed too high a risk. Presented with identical conditions for a tour of England or India, would the same decision have been made? We will never know. CA interim chief executive Nick Hockley refuted that money was a factor “in the strongest possible terms”. But their track record on cancelling tours that are either too difficult or not financially lucrative does not leave them a wealth of runs on the board. In the last four years, Australia has played 22 Test matches against India or England, the two nations that deliver by far the greatest return on investment for CA. By contrast, they’ve played just 15 Tests against all other nations combined during this same period. The only two nations Australia has played since COVID struck are England and India. Irrespective of the decision this week, it is undisputed that the Big Three continue to draw away from the pack at a worrying pace. And it is to the detriment of world cricket. Cricket South Africa’s acting CEO Pholetsi Moseki said the tour cancellation “represents a serious financial loss”. “We believe the stance taken by Cricket Australia is regrettable and will have a serious impact on the sustainability of the less wealthy cricket playing nations.” This is where the real hurt lies. Cricket Australia will be fine without this tour (which they tell us is postponed — cricket speak for canned). While it will impact Justin Langer’s side given the (now sizeable) gap before its next match — that being the Ashes later this year — the move is hardly going to be felt by the organisation and by extension, cricket in this country. For South Africa, though, the impact could be immense. Already facing major financial loss, the tour was to provide a much-needed cash injection. Firdose Moonda, who covers all things South African cricket for ESPNCricinfo, said the decision was another “painful” kick in the guts to the struggling cricket nation. “It feels very much we are now starting to see the true decline of South African cricket,” she tweeted. “Back when the Big Three (a selfish and small-minded idea in any event) was being formed, South Africa were right there, being considered part of a Big(ish) Four. There are nowhere near that now. Years of maladministration and poor form is damaging the sport, perhaps beyond repair.” The move by Cricket Australia also sets a hardline precedent that will soon be put to the test. After cancelling the South Africa tour, will they decide players can travel to India for the IPL, due to start in early April? Australian players bought in the upcoming auction will need a ‘no-objection certificate’ from the governing body to travel to India, a country that has also been hit hard by the pandemic. Last season’s IPL was played in the UAE, but this year the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has said they want it to return to India. In total, 19 Australians featured in last year’s tournament, and Hockley has said they would hand out certificates on a “case-by-case” basis.
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