It’s certainly going to be a Sizzling Summer of Cricket, but will the players survive the heat?
In the original scheme of things, the Boxing Day Test against India was to have celebrated the 25th anniversary of that iconic moment when South Africa played India in the first Test of a non-racial society; India being honoured for their support and solidarity in the struggle. It should have been a joyous moment cementing a long-standing bond.
All that has been swept aside by the indifference of the BCCI. Why else would they schedule a series against Sri Lanka to end on 24 December, ensuring that no Test could be played in South Africa on the 26th? If reports from India are to believed, there is bad blood in the boardrooms, but once again, whatever bickering there is, the brunt falls on the players.
The Boxing Day Test has been replaced by a four-day match against Zimbabwe, and the traditional New Year Test at Newlands, one of the great festive moments of South African sport, has been shunted back to 5 Jan. Die Vyfde Nuwe Jaar does not have the same ring as Die Tweede Nuwe Jaar.
But still, even with the number of Tests being cut from four to three, there will still be 24 days of play – three Tests, six ODIs and three T20Is – crammed in between 5 Jan and the start of the four-Test series against Australia, beginning 1 March.
Both of those series should carry a sense of occasion and heightened expectation, but now they seem to be just another part of a scrambled jigsaw.
The echoes of AB de Villiers’ declaration, earlier this year, that he needed to stand back from cricket to get his head right, still reverberate.
The Proteas ‘marquee’ players face a schedule which some may describe as manic, kicking off on 28 September with a two-Test series against Bangladesh, followed by three ODIs and two T20Is.
Then comes the much-hyped T20 Global League, in which each marquee player will be expected to play 14 games; 15 if they make the final.
The finalists have a break for just a week before gathering to prepare for the Zimbabwe match. Perhaps, though, we may see some unusual selections for that. Whatever, the workload of a player such as Kagiso Rabada will have to be carefully managed.
Still, it is possible some top players will be in cricket kit for 78 days out of 182; and let’s not forget the travelling, the checking-in, the bus rides and time for nets. In that respect, white-ball games are more demanding than Tests: a different city for every game. And all the time, the highest standards are demanded. Woe to the man who drops a catch in the deciding Australian Test at the end of March.
Fast forward to April:
‘Mommy, mommy, there’s a strange man at the door…’
‘That’s not a strange man, dear, that’s your daddy…’
‘What’s that smell? It’s cooking, dear, home cooking. You have forgotten that?
‘And no, you can’t keep your clothes in your suitcase…’
Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images