Sport

A barren cricket summer for Cape Town

By Antoinette Muller 31 October 2013

As things stand, the traditional New Year’s Test at Newlands will not be in 2014. The reasons for it remain a guessing game as it is almost inconceivable that it’s Haroon Lorgat who is the bane of the BCCI’s existence. That it’s come to this is a shame, and that nobody really knows the reason why is the greatest shame of all. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

After months of the same saga dragging on, much speculation, hope and some mudslinging, Cricket South Africa and the Board of Control for Cricket in India have finally released an itinerary for the summer. What would have been a bumper tour has been cut into just 13 days of actual cricket. India will arrive in South Africa on 2 December and depart after the Boxing Day Test which ends on 30 December.

The venues for those games have now become the biggest bone of contention. Johannesburg, Durban and Centurion will host the three one-day internationals and the two Tests, with Joburg getting both and ODI and a Test, while Durban gets the Boxing Day Test as well as a one-day international. Newlands has gone from being scheduled to host a New Year’s Test – which would have been Sachin Tendulkar’s 200th – to nothing at all.

Since the tour was eventually agreed upon, there have been murmurs that Cape Town would be the venue to fall short, and in a very carefully worded statement on Wednesday, CSA revealed that the venues were chosen due to their close proximity.

“Because of the truncated nature of the tour it was necessary to centralise venues as much as possible. We are working on alternative plans to fill the gaps in our home international summer. This will not necessarily be at the New Year,” CSA president Chris Nenzani said.

While this makes sense for one-day internationals, it’s far less true for the Tests. Every year that South Africa has played at home, teams have quite easily travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town in order to play games. Durban is the traditional Boxing Day venue, but CSA have previously stated that South Africa’s record at this venue is a concern. They have won just three Tests out of nine at the venue in the last ten years. They have lost four games on the trot at Kingsmead – one of those Tests against India. It has led to speculation that the negotiation for the tour to go ahead could have possibly involved India dictating venues, too.

For the cynics, there might be some truth in that. India have only ever won two Tests in South Africa and they were played in Durban and Johannesburg. However, the Test schedule is being carried out similarly to how it would have been initially, but questions still have to be asked over whether Cape Town should have been awarded a Test, considering the other venues have the luxury of one-day internationals.

Especially since the domestic four-day competition is on a break and the T20 competition only starting in early January, as it stands there will be no cricket anywhere in the country during prime-time. That is a massive loss, not only for sponsors and broadcasters, but also for the fans of the game who have become accustomed to and who were expecting at least some form of entertainment over the summer months.

Part of India’s reasoning for initially wanting to cut the tour short is that their players “needed rest”, but it has since become apparent that is not the sole reason. A number of other factors are at play. India’s shirt sponsor deal with Sahara runs out at the end of December and the company has kicked its heels over an extensions. A spill-over into the New Year would have meant either playing the New Year’s Test without a sponsor or changing sponsors midway through.

As with most things regarding this tour, though, there has been no official word or transparency from those involved and instead, everyone has been left to wonder and speculate.

India’s Ranji Trophy also overlaps into the New Year, with quarter finals taking place from 8-12 January, meaning some international stars can take part in them before they set off for New Zealand, with the first batch in the land of the Long White Cloud scheduled for 19 January.

Even if that were the case, though, a New Year’s Test would still be completed by 6 January – time is not the issue for the culling of Cape Town’s marquee Test. There are reports which suggest Pakistan might be roped in for a whistle-stop tour prior to the India series, but it’s likely to be only one-day internationals and it would still leave the cricket calendar barren over prime summer time.

That it has come to this is a shame. That the reason why it has come to this is a guessing game is even a greater shame. India’s desire to play cricket at home is understandable, especially considering their dip in revenues from their newly struck broadcasting deal. But none of those newly overlapped fixtures would interfere with a New Year’s Test. The fact that a premier tour has suffered is a shame. The absence of a clear and defined reason is the greatest shame of all. DM

Photo: A general view with Table Mountain in the background during the third cricket test match between South Africa and England at Newlands in Cape Town January 6, 2010. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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