Johannesburg - South African cricket breathed a collective sigh of relief following confirmation that the Indian team would undertake its tour to the country later this month.
Sure, the for T20 matches were postponed, the schedule will have to be rejigged again because of Covid, and crowds may not be allowed, but if India hadn’t toured at all the fallout for Cricket SA and the sport as a whole in the country would have been catastrophic.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India, through its secretary, Jay Shah confirmed on Saturday that the tour would go ahead. It would start a week later than originally scheduled, but Cricket SA are happy to accept that, and the fact that the tour would have to take place according to strict Covid-19 protocols in a bio-secure environment.
What that will mean for spectators will be decided over the next couple of days. The first Test was originally scheduled to start at the Wanderers on December 17, with Cricket SA hoping that it would be able to have up to 2000 spectators in attendance and even have that increased by the time of the third Test, which had been scheduled for Newlands, with 50% of capacity allowed.
The rapid escalation of Covid-19 cases, driven by the new variant Omicron, particularly in Gauteng, is likely to curtail those plans. The four T20 Internationals, which were due to take place in Cape Town and Paarl in January, will be played later in 2022.
South African cricket already endured the Netherlands side cutting short its One-Day series after travel bans were issued by a number of European countries after South African scientists first made the world aware of the new variant.
India adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach and crucially, kept the India A side in the country, for its three match series with South Africa A, which is taking place in Bloemfontein. The final match of that series starts on Monday.
In its statement on Saturday, Cricket SA confirmed that strict ‘bio bubble’ protocols will be in place. Cricket SA has employed those conventions previously when hosting Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s men's teams last summer, with all those matches taking place in Johannesburg and Centurion.
“The allocation of match venues will still be in respect of the Bubble Safe Environment (BSEs) and therefore the decision on the allocations will take into account the need for safer playing environments,” said CSA.
“CSA has instituted these world class standards and measures to ensure that all players, staff and officials are protected within this environment. CSA’s main focus is to safeguard the cricket biosphere by managing strict entry standards and limited movement outside of its cordon.”
When the tour's schedule was first announced in September all three Tests were going to be split between the Wanderers and SuperSport Park, with the limited overs portion of the series taking place in Cape Town and Paarl. That changed at the start of November, when CSA announced that the New Year’s Test would be returning to Newlands. The emergence of Omicron could lead to another change now.
However, Cricket SA will accept that logistical challenges, because the tour is simply too important. Cricket SA announced losses totalling R221-million at its AGM in October. Most of those losses stemmed from the England limited overs tour last year being cut short, and were worsened when Australia indefinitely postponed its Test series here in March. Had India not toured, the effect on South African cricket’s echo-system would have been dreadful.
“Even under the most uncertain times, the Boards kept the light of hope alive and kept us anticipating that this tour will indeed take place.” said CSA’s acting CEO, Pholetsi Moseki. .