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Tour de flush — Cricket South Africa hits big financial six with Indian series

Tour de flush — Cricket South Africa hits big financial six with Indian series
Kagiso Rabada of South Africa celebrates the wicket of Kraigg Brathwaite of the West Indies during day two of the second Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on 9 March 2023. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

The governing body for cricket will receive just more than R1-billion from broadcast deals for India’s monthlong tour to the country.

The Proteas’ multiformat series against India, starting on 10 December, is crucial for South Africa in terms of what happens on the field as much as it is for the implications off the field. 

India have never won a Test series in South Africa. With several of the superstars in India’s side ageing, it’s likely to be a final opportunity for many of them to settle a record that has been held since 1992/93, when they first toured the country.

For South Africa, it’s an opportunity to blood fresh faces in the white-ball squads while focusing on the Test squads.

South Africa’s head coaches, Shukri Conrad (red-ball) and Rob Walter (white-ball), have formed a close relationship since they started their tenure alongside each other at the start of the year.

With both in agreement that the two-match Test series takes precedence for India’s tour, a number of leading players will be absent throughout the six-match white-ball series.

Kagiso Rabada and Temba Bavuma have both been rested, and the pace trio of Lungi Ngidi, Gerald Coetzee and Marco Jansen are only available for the opening two T20Is.

Cricket India

Shreyas Iyer of India bats during their World Cup semifinal against New Zealand at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on 15 November 2023. (Photo: Robert Cianflone / Getty Images)

For the coaches it’s a balancing act of keeping the players fresh for the Test series, after enduring a gruelling nine-match Cricket World Cup in India last month while simultaneously playing competitive T20 cricket, with a T20 World Cup scheduled for June 2024.

South Africa will play only three other scheduled T20Is, against West Indies, before the biannual tournament.

From India’s side, stalwart batters Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma will also only be available for the Test series, which will be held from 26 to 30 December at SuperSport Park in Centurion and in Newlands in Cape Town from 3 to 7 January.

Out of the park

Outside of the boundary ropes of the eight-match series, Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) coffers will receive much-needed respite because of India’s month-long tour.

The broadcast rights of all eight matches of the tour were bought for just more than R1-billion by Star Sports in India, which is owned by Disney.

“Any India home series is actually critical to any country,” Andrew Breetzke, CEO of the South African Cricketers’ Association, told Daily Maverick. “Not just us.”

“The broadcast deal for cricket to be broadcast into India is very lucrative and this series is worth over a billion [rand] to [CSA], which is critical for the future of the game in the country.”

According to Breetzke, each match is worth about $8-million (about R150-million). That’s R150-million to broadcast one of India’s eight matches in South Africa in India.

CSA made a loss of R119-million in the last financial year. Although the ongoing broadcast deal with India will offset some of that loss, it will also replenish CSA’s coffers for when other countries tour the country and the broadcast deals are not as lucrative.

“Compared with when we play a home series against other countries where we often break even,” Breetzke said.

Kagiso Rabada in action during the Proteas’ second Test against the West Indies at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on 9 March 2023. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

Less Test cricket

The last time South Africa played a three-match Test series when the opposition wasn’t Australia, England or India was in 2018/19, when Pakistan toured local shores.

The “Big Three”, as they’re known, are currently the only nations financially capable of playing three-match Test series consistently.

The viability of Test cricket in South Africa currently depends heavily on the amount of space in the cricket calendar. CSA had to squeeze in as many matches as possible against India in the space of a month without compromising Test cricket.

Historically, Test cricket was the most valuable format from a broadcast deal perspective, but over the past five years that has changed.

“Given the schedule being so tight now, we have the SA20 starting [in January],” Breetzke said.

“For a three-match Test series, you need a month [available] and we just don’t have a month. We have a month to play two Tests, three T20s and three ODIs.

“A T20 game will get as much [broadcast revenue] as a Test match. That’s why a lot of series are T20s because in a week you can play four T20s whereas you can only play one Test match.

“Now a T20 is the same value as a Test match, whereas historically, Test matches were worth much more.

“Historically, Test cricket was the most valuable format from a broadcast deal perspective, but over the past five years that has changed.

“[Broadcast deals] are the same now irrespective of what format it is. Everyone wants to play India; it’s where the money is.”

Rewriting history

India’s tours to South Africa are vitally important financially, as they are to any other country they tour to.

It’s the reason that – despite a new variant of Covid-19 being detected in the country at the time and no crowds allowed into stadiums because of the pandemic – CSA ensured that the previous tour in 2021/22 took place despite the obstacles.

There was also a schedule change while the four T20s were postponed. The tour scheduling was muddled but CSA could not afford to cancel.

India have an opportunity to sneak early revenge in the white-ball matches, with South Africa selecting a number of debutants.

South Africa eventually won the Test series 2-1. The three-match series is perhaps best remembered for Virat Kohli’s outburst aimed at the stump mic in the final Test at Newlands, which South Africa won by seven wickets.

It was also the series that marked a then relatively unknown Marco Jansen’s arrival on the international cricket scene. He has gone on to become a force in all three formats.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cricket South Africa is optimistic despite loss of R317m over past two years

The come-from-behind Test series win for the Proteas meant they maintained a perfect record against India in the format at home – a record the subcontinent side will eagerly look to change this time around.

South Africa also ran rampant in the three ODIs, thumping the guests 3-0.

India have an opportunity to sneak early revenge in the white-ball matches, with South Africa selecting a number of debutants. Despite the financial circumstances surrounding the tour, the various on-field narratives around it are intriguing enough to keep a keen eye on the action within the boundary ropes too. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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