In a significant blow to the prestige of Test cricket, South Africa is poised to send a seriously depleted squad to New Zealand for the upcoming Test series.
The decision comes as a result of a scheduling conflict with the nation's domestic T20 league, the SA20.
Pholetsi Moseki, the chief executive of Cricket South Africa (CSA), confirmed on Tuesday that players contracted to the six SA20 teams, which are predominantly owned by Indian Premier League franchises, will not be available for the two-Test series in New Zealand. The series is set to commence in February next year, clashing with the marquee SA20 that will be played in January.
Which players will South Africa likely miss for the Tests?
Every player who is contracted with a team in the SA20 and everyone likely to get a bid at the auction that will be conducted next month will likely not make the touring party. This amounts to a serious draining of resources from the Test team.
Premier bowlers Kagiso Rabada, Marco Jansen, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi and Keshav Maharaj are all contracted with SA20 teams. While the batting group will also miss big names – namely Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Heinrich Klaasen and Ryan Rickelton – there’s still enough talent in the bank to cover up.
Playoff structure, revised mid-week timings amongst new features in bumper 34-match schedule released. Get the full #Betway #SA20 fixtures news here: https://t.co/OpUJBDf8fJ pic.twitter.com/SoffpxZsHK— Betway SA20 (@SA20_League) August 15, 2023
Dean Elgar, the skipper, and Keegan Petersen are notable names without an SA20 contract, although that could potentially change after the auction.
The highly talented Tony de Zorzi, experienced middle-order batter Zubayr Hamza, Khaya Zondo and Rudi Second make up for a decent batting group. They could also rope in David Bedingham, who has made tons of runs in the England County circuit and is back in South Africa and available for selection.
SA20 the final nail in the coffin for Test cricket in South Africa?
The clash between the SA20, which runs from January 10 to February 10, 2024, and the New Zealand Test series, which kicks off with a warm-up match on January 29, has raised concerns about the future of Test cricket in South Africa.
The SA20 occupies the prime, summer January window and was initially designed to avoid international fixture clashes. However, the last edition had to accommodate a Covid-19 postponed World Cup Super League series against England.
Then, the SA20 was paused for a week to allow for the England games, but no such temporary solution can be expected every time in a marquee tournament that CSA are keen on pushing.
CSA reportedly approached New Zealand Cricket (NZC) to suggest rescheduling the red-ball fixtures, which are also a key part of the World Test Championship cycle. However, NZC outright declined the request.
South Africa skipped an ODI series last time around against Australia, nearly putting their qualification to the Cricket World Cup 2023 in danger before they salvaged it through the home series against Netherlands.
The third edition of the WTC is running and foregoing a series or sending a depleted squad will seriously affect their hopes of making the final.
The decision to prioritize the SA20 over the Test series has sparked debate within cricketing circles. Elgar, South Africa's Test opener, expressed his concerns to City Press last month, stating that “a high percentage of the players still really want to play Test cricket”.
That said, would they prefer Test cricket or playing for South Africa over the fairly easier bucks that would come by playing the SA20?
The implications of sending a team without major players also puts South Africa at risk of straining relationships with New Zealand. That they already have disputes with the BCCI and Cricket Australia over different issues over the past decade further puts CSA in a spot as they will not want to rub NZC the wrong way.
The future of Test cricket in South Africa appears uncertain despite the Test team itself boasting of several exciting stars.
The nation's revised first-class tournament is struggling, and international fixtures are becoming increasingly challenging to fund.
While CSA has committed to reinvesting funds generated from the SA20 into the revival of its first-class program, doubts remain about whether the T20 competition will rejuvenate South African cricket internationally.