The decision is a significant blow to Cricket South Africa, which earlier this season also watched the England One-Day team leave before an ODI series against the Proteas was finished.
JOHANNESBURG – Cricket South Africa has expressed “immense disappointment” with Cricket Australia’s decision to postpone the Australian men’s team’s tour to South Africa next month.
In a statement in response to CA’s decision announced earlier on Tuesday, Cricket SA outlined how it had “bent over backwards” to accommodate Cricket Australia’s demands for the three-match Test series.
“We are extremely disappointed by the decision of CA,” Cricket SA’s director of cricket, Graeme Smith, said. “CSA has been working tirelessly in recent weeks to ensure that we meet every single expectation of CA. So to be informed about the CA decision at the eleventh hour is frustrating.”
Cricket Australia informed CSA of its decision on Tuesday morning, citing concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.
“Due to the public health situation in South Africa which includes a second wave and new variant of the virus and following extensive due diligence with medical experts it has become clear that travelling from Australia to South Africa at this current time poses an unacceptable level health and a safety risk to our players, support staff and the community,” said Cricket Australia’s interim chief executive, Nick Hockley.
The decision is a significant blow to Cricket SA, which earlier this season also watched the England One-Day team leave before an ODI series against the Proteas claiming there were breaches in the bio-secure environment in Cape Town, even though none of their players or coaching and management staff had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We acknowledge the significant amount of work by CSA in planning for the tour, during which we made it clear that CA was prepared to take on additional cost and effort to make the series happen.”
That “significant work” included giving the Australian team sole access to the Irene Country Lodge for the duration of its stay in South Africa. That venue, a vast area, was shared by the South African and Sri Lankan teams during the latter’s tour here earlier this season. That series went off without a hitch.
“In terms of the arrangements, the Proteas were to move to a separate hotel altogether. Furthermore, all hotel staff, match officials and even bus drivers were to enter the bio-secure environment 14 days prior to Australia’s arrival,” said CSA’s chief medical officer, Dr. Shuaib Manjrah.
Australia were due to play three Tests against South Africa with the series taking place between the Wanderers and SuperSport Park.
Seventeen members of the SA Test squad currently in Pakistan, along with head coach Mark Boucher, were set to start a 14-day quarantine, as demanded by CA before the series started. That group will still return immediately after the second Test in Rawalpindi, presumably because it will add even further cost to keep them in Pakistan, especially as the T20 squad had already departed on Tuesday.
The Australian team was due to arrive in South Africa on February 24, with the first Test scheduled to start on March 3.
South Africa’s Covid-19 cases have shown a downward trend of late suggesting that the country has passed the “second wave”. The president announced on Monday night that lockdown restrictions were to be relaxed as well. However the emergence of a more potent variant of the virus has caused concern, particularly as it relates to whether the vaccines currently being produced are able to suppress that variant.
“In addition, CSA had also committed to importing an Australian tracking system at great cost to ensure proper tracking of close contacts in the event of a positive test,” Manjrah said. “The touring team was also going to be granted VIP access through the airports, after government intervention to ensure this privilege.
“These are just some of the protocols that CSA was to put in place. We had really gone the extra mile to make sure that the tour would proceed.”
Hockley said CA’s decision was not taken lightly. “We are extremely disappointed, especially given the importance of continuing international cricket at this time, our valued relationship with CSA, and our aspirations to compete in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship,” Hockley added.
“However, we have been consistent since the start of the pandemic that the health and safety of our people is always our number one priority and unfortunately despite best efforts to agree a bio-security plan, the risks are simply too great at this time.”
Pholetsi Moseki, CSA acting chief executive officer described the tour’s postponement as “sad”. “CSA has incurred significant costs related to the planning stages and the cancellation of the tour represents a serious financial loss.”