Fewer Test matches for South Africa after CSA prioritises T20s
The game’s top brass had to ‘find a balance between financial needs and the international game’.
The sight of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Marco Jansen and Anrich Nortje making England batters duck, flash, nick, miss and crumble on the first two days of the first Test at Lord’s was special. It was also depressing.
This is a pace quartet of real class, of genuine variation, playing together for the first time. This is a foursome that should lead the Proteas back to the summit of Test cricket over the next five years. Unfortunately, that is unlikely.
These diamonds of fast bowling, with the immaculate Rabada at the tip, should evolve into mythical status in whites. Instead, they will be a symbol of what might have been in a game that has changed and is changing to suit a modern world.
This week, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced its Future Tours Programme (FTP) schedule on the same morning that the Proteas’ quicks were ripping through England’s top order.
South Africa, holders of the Test Mace as the world’s best team as recently as 2015, are now one of the minnows of the game. India, England and Australia are the powerbrokers in world cricket and the rest feed off the crumbs spilt from the big three’s table.
Even the ICC itself, which is supposed to be the body that runs the game, only displayed interest in carving out a piece of the finite international pie.
The ICC will host eight international tournaments — World Cups in T20 and one-day international formats for men and women — in the next eight years.
The FTP schedule shows that the Proteas will only play 28 Tests in the new cycle, from 2023 to 2027. England will play 43, Australia 40 and India 38.
South Africa won’t play more than a two-match series until 2026, when they host Australia in three Tests in October that year. That is followed by three Tests against England in December 2026.
For the many fans who love Test cricket, it’s a blow, but it’s also recognition and realisation of the future of the game.
The idea of playing a match over five days started in the 19th century and it has somehow survived a quarter of the way into the 21st century. But change is coming.
England and Australia will hang on to the Ashes for as long as it makes them piles of money. India will play Test cricket for as long as the interest remains. It could be indefinite, it could be a decade, or it could be until next year. India is the power that moves the needle in world cricket.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive Pholetsi Moseki and board chairperson Lawson Naidoo represented the Proteas’ interests at the negotiations.
The pair are relative newcomers to the cosy network of international cricket wheeling and dealing. From the outside, it might appear that they were bullied into accepting a less than ideal FTP schedule. But Moseki batted that assertion away.
“We have a clear strategy about what our needs are,” he told Daily Maverick from Lord’s. “The ICC paired teams together in the schedule, but the number of games was determined by the two countries involved.
“So, you might say the schedule is ‘light’, but it was intentional on our side. Remember, we needed to make space for our new T20 competition in January and early February.
“Those dates are now ring-fenced in the calendar and that has had an impact. International cricket doesn’t stop for our internal competitions, but we had to carve out space. We have chosen to have fewer Test matches,” Moseki said.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
The new South African T20 competition, which features six teams, all owned by Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises, has been successful in attracting international players and also foreign investment.
It will start in 2023, days after the traditional New Year’s Test ends (around 9 January), with the final slated for the first Sunday in February. In all, there will be 33 matches featuring all of South Africa’s top players and a host of international white-ball stars.
Indications from various sources suggest that the predicted revenue has already been exceeded for the first year.
The stark reality is that Test cricket, and most of the international bilateral series in which the Proteas play, does not generate much revenue. Often, it costs CSA money to send the Proteas on tour.
In 2021, the organisation showed a profit, largely because it saved more than R50-million when the Proteas’ West Indies tour was cancelled in 2020 because of Covid-19.
“We don’t have a choice in the matter because bilateral cricket on its own won’t sustain the game. We need to diversify revenue streams,” Moseki said.
“You can’t host India and England every year. India is the only tour where we make money at a company level. All the other tours cost us money, which is why our domestic T20 tournament is so key for us.
“And even when we play India in a Test, we only earn a fraction of the money that we would get from a T20 international.
“We had to find a balance between financial needs and the international game. But our mandate was to give our domestic T20 League the best chance of success, which meant closing the January and early February window.
“We were facing a perfect storm — the ICC tournaments on one side, the IPL on another, and then you are facing all these domestic T20 leagues around the world. It was a tough task to balance all those needs and still carve out our own space.”
As unpalatable as it appears, the reality is that Test cricket does not generate income. The other irrefutable truth is that white-ball cricket, and T20Is in particular, are the future of the game.
Last summer, India cancelled four T20Is in South Africa, which cost CSA R200-million — R50-million per game.
The FTP schedule leaves space for bilateral negotiations between countries about white-ball tours.
“We can have multiple bilateral white-ball tours agreed between two countries, and I expect quite a lot of that to happen close to world cups for preparation purposes,” Moseki said.
The key question for the organisation is how to generate additional income outside the FTP with bilateral tours.
Outside the top three, Test cricket is diminishing in a fast-moving world. The FTP schedule all but confirms it. It’s sad and it’s inevitable. So enjoy the sight of Rabada and company at Lord’s, in whites, while you can. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.