SA20 the golden elephant in South Africa's dressing room

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The SA20 is causing a schedule conflict again, with key South African players unlikely to be available for the Test series against New Zealand in February 2024
The SA20 is causing a schedule conflict again, with key South African players unlikely to be available for the Test series against New Zealand in February 2024 © SA20

Lost in the kerfuffle over the scheduling shemozzle for South Africa's men's WTC series in New Zealand in February is the incontrovertible fact that not a lot could or can be done, that the two matches were on the FTP that appeared almost five months before the SA20 arrived, and that South Africa shouldn't make their problems New Zealand's.

India's tour to South Africa is scheduled to end on January 7. It will be followed directly by the SA20, which ran from January 10 to February 12 this year. That means players involved in the SA20 won't be able to make it to New Zealand in time for the Tests in Mount Maunganui and Hamilton from February 4 to 17.

How many players? Of the XI in South Africa's most recent Test, against West Indies at the Wanderers in march, only Dean Elgar and Tony de Zorzi did not play in this year's SA20.

Wouldn't the players want to be part of the Tests rather than just another T20 tournament? They don't have a choice. As per South Africa's players' individually signed agreements with CSA, the SA20 has been put at the top of their priorities: they are bound to consider the SA20 sacrosanct.

"Because of our contractual obligations to the SA20, and because I've bet and CSA have bet everything on the SA20, we have to guarantee players for the SA20," Pholetsi Moseki, CSA's chief executive, told Cricbuzz on Friday. "So, yes, that is correct. We've bet a lot on the SA20 being a success, and a lot of that was making sure we guarantee the players for the tournament."

The SA20 is the elephant in the room - the golden elephant. It gets in the way of the international game, but without it professional cricket would be out of business in South Africa in a few short years. The view that playing for South Africa matters more than anything else is utter and nostalgic nonsense.

So, auction dependent, do not expect the Test squad in New Zealand to include names like Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, Ryan Rickelton, Heinrich Klaasen, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada or Lungi Ngidi.

Are New Zealand that busy? They will host Bangladesh and Pakistan in white-ball games from December 20 to January 21, then play South Africa, then receive Australia for three T20Is and two Tests from February 21 to March 8. There are a scant four days between the end of South Africa's tour and the start of Australia's. And New Zealand - like South Africa - do not have the player resources to staff separate Test and white-ball squads.

What to do? Playing the two Tests in New Zealand in April, as CSA have suggested to NZC, won't work. The IPL, the most significant annual event on the world cricket scene, will take over the global game from around the last week of March to late May.

"Both of us lose quite a lot of players during the IPL, so I was hoping that at least they would see that as making it more evenly balanced," Moseki said. "They were reluctant to do that. I wasn't necessarily in favour of it, but I thought it could have been a way of rescuing the situation. I couldn't see any other time unless we could pull a miracle like playing in a neutral country, which I don't see as a possibility because they want to host the games."

Another mooted solution, to play the matches in South Africa in August, is similarly and understandably unpalatable to the Kiwis. The issue is not of their making, so they should not be expected to give up their home advantage.

How could these sorry circumstances have been avoided? "That's what we've been cracking our heads about in the last 72 hours, to see if we've missed something," Moseki said. "We tried everything to sort it out, and the reality is the leagues - ours included - are shrinking the international calendar. When you include the leagues it's even smaller. Then you've got annual ICC events. We're all trying to squeeze everything into that small space.

"I don't think there is anything that could have been done differently. This is unfortunately what is facing world cricket currently and over the next few years. But the last 72 hours, the hate that I've got! So I went back to the guys and looked at it again. I don't know what else we could have done except to say we're not going to honour the fixture, and that's never something you want to do."

South Africa did exactly that for three ODIs in Australia in January - because they needed their players for the SA20. The forfeiture of those WCSL points helped take South Africa uncomfortably close to having to qualify for this year's World Cup.

"Some people seemed to think it was an easy decision because of what they saw as our obsession with the SA20, but it wasn't," Moseki said. "I would be really reluctant to do that this time. I would try to see how we could rescue the situation before we forfeit. That would be the nuclear option, but it's not something I would be in favour of. It would be because we didn't have a choice.

"I'm not totally unhappy with the New Zealanders. I understand that they tried to accommodate us. I still feel there might be something we could do, and that's why I've been reluctant to blame them. I am still talking to them. I was really unhappy with the Aussies because I felt there were options. They just didn't want to accept any of them. I understand both us and New Zealand are in a very tight position."

All of which is playing out in South Africa against a feral background of public anger and abuse fuelled by CSA's astonishing success rate at shooting itself in both feet and several other places in the not yet distant past, and basic racism that black people should dare to think they are capable of running anything properly. It can seem as if the only thing cricketminded South Africans love more than the game is venting their spleens over the performance of largely black-run CSA.

"Because of our history and the damage caused, they always think the worst of us," Moseki said. "And then came the challenges of the last 72 hours; of the last few weeks, in fact. I've aged five to 10 years this week."

Stand by. Another 72 hours, and counting, are on the way.




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