Cricket Australia’s decision to cancel their tour of South Africa despite unprecedented protocols being met and a proven record of South Africa being able to establish an effective bio-secure environment, showcases once more that the immense power Australia, England and India have needs to be broken.
The eleventh-hour decision comes after their governing body, Cricket Australia (CA), has for months said publicly and privately that it intends to go ahead with the tour. Just last week, CA had indicated their ongoing willingness to honour the tour.
They had expressed their concerns about the levels of coronavirus infection in South Africa, and indicated that the rate thereof would be closely monitored. Gauteng, where the Test series would be held, has had the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa. However, the daily active cases has shown a marked drop-off in the past 14 days. On 19 January, the daily active cases stood at 35,615. It’s currently at 9,773 (the fourth highest in the country) but in the context of any objective safety assessment, this would have counted in favour of the tour going ahead.
Instead, CA strung CSA along until the absolute last minute, subjecting them to an extensive list of conditions needed to be met (and were met) before they agreed to tour. These include:
– The Proteas team would enter the bio-secure environment (BSE) 14 days prior to the arrival of the Australian team, thus altering their planning during the current tour of Pakistan (the Proteas were forced to pick two completely different Test and T20I squads)
– All four areas (two hotels and two venues – Wanderers and SuperSport Park) had a protocol to implement a strict BSE with no contact with anybody outside this area
– CSA subsequently agreed to two separate BSEs, with Australia having full and exclusive use of the Irene Country Lodge (the Proteas shared this venue with Sri Lanka with zero positive cases reported during this time), with minimum staff present on site
– All hotel staff, match officials and even bus drivers were to enter the BSE 14 days prior to Australia’s arrival
– CSA had to import an Australian tracking system at great cost to ensure proper tracking of close contacts in the event of a positive test
– Australia would be granted VIP access through the airports, after government intervention.
It’s hard to see what more CSA could have done to ease the legitimate health concerns Australia had. The CA media release said all the right things. They were grateful to the South Africans for the efforts made, how the decision to abandon the tour wasn’t taken lightly and how they understood the importance of international cricket being played at this time. Blah, blah, blah.
Given the gulf in wealth between the two governing bodies, Australia’s position relative to South Africa’s (they are generating an income through open-to-the-public, albeit with some restrictions, franchise and international cricket, and in the process honouring broadcasting commitments), as well as a revived, post-coronavirus cricket economy, means they are in a position of power. They’ve exploited that position and it’s a disgrace.
Another one of the ‘Big Three’, England, decided to exert that power late last year when their players refused to play the remaining matches in the ODI series, citing concerns around the integrity of the bio-secure bubble. This despite the England and Wales Cricket Board urging them to do so.
This cost South African cricket in excess of R30 million. It later emerged that the two England touring members – a coach and a player – having initially tested positive, were later cleared after a second test (false positives are a fairly common occurrence). The false positives meant the bio-bubble was secure.
Furthermore, England players had regularly broken Covid-19 protocols, including to play rounds of golf and training in an undesignated part of Newlands cricket ground.
Yet, in an act of cowardice and deep deception, they painted CSA as the sole culprits for the perceived compromised integrity of the bio-secure bubble at the time. There are many theories as to why the England players would want to abandon the ODI series. None of them really matter. What is clear is that their employers, the ECB, were revealed to be spineless, given that it allowed employees to dictate to it on a matter of such importance.
Either that or, like Australia, they just don’t have any regard for the dire consequences such decisions hold for a host nation outside the ‘Big Three’. The pandemic has already crippled cricket in South Africa. If this isn’t the death blow, it is surely a potentially mortal wound.
Outside the still-to-be-confirmed World T20, South Africa won’t play any significant opposition until October, when India host them for a ODI and T20I series. They then host India for a three-Test, three-T20I series. In the period between now and the end of the year (a = away, h = home):
– Australia play: New Zealand (a) (3 T20I), the West Indies (a) (3 ODI, 3 T20I), Sri Lanka (h) (3 T20I). They then host the Ashes.
– England play: Sri Lanka (h) (3 ODI, 3 T20I), Pakistan (h) (3 ODI, 3 T20I), the India in a 5-Test series away. A 3 ODI, 3 T20I tour of Bangladesh follows that, before the 5-Test Ashes series in Australia.
– India play: England (h) (5 Tests), Sri Lanka (a) (3 T20I), England (a) (5 Tests) , South Africa (h) (3 ODI, 3 T20I), New Zealand (h) (2 Tests, 3 T20I), South Africa (a) (3 Tests, 3 T20I). They are also expected to get the go-ahead to host the World T20 in October/November.
This underlines just how much power cricket’s Terrible Trio yield. They are a law unto themselves, shielded from any meaningful accountability – the type that could have them dishonour a tour to South African because, firstly, it is safe, and secondly, because the welfare of one of cricket’s great nations is in grave jeopardy.
There needs to be an uprising that breaks the stronghold Australia, England and India have on the game. This is the people’s game. Wealthy and gluttonous suits shouldn’t get to decide the fate of entire cricketing nations.