Cricket: Proteas to play only three Tests in England next year

2011-06-15 00:00

CAPE TOWN — South Africa look as though they are going to face up to another curtailed Test itinerary against top-tier opponents.

Hot on the heels of confirmation that the home series against Australia early next summer will be a two-Test series — which strips away some of the aura of this great rivalry, as much as it does the likelihood of a positive outcome either way — it now seems that the Proteas will only play three, rather than the more customary four or five Tests in England next year.

If that is the case, traditionalists are concerned about the increased marginalisation of the five-day game — which retains both spectator and broadcast allure if well-matched teams in the upper regions of the ICC rankings are up against each other — are likely to only deepen their anxiety.

In this case, however, the London Olympics in July and August next year is apparently a partial contributor, having led to English cricket bosses restricting the number of home Tests in the 2012 season, when South Africa are the obvious main visiting drawcards, to six.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper at the weekend, cricket writer and former England opening batsman Steve James, who made his debut against South Africa at Lord’s in 1998, said the host nation would play three early-season Tests against West Indies, “probably at Lord’s, Trent Bridge and Edgbaston”.

The Proteas, he suggested, would play their three Tests against Andrew Strauss’s side at Lord’s, the Oval and Headingley.

Only once previously in the post-isolation era have South Africa played only three Tests in England, and that was in 1994 when Kepler Wessels’ outfit earned a 1-1 stalemate.

The 1998 and 2003 series there were both contested over five Tests, and the most recent one in 2008 — when Graeme Smith led his side to a drought-breaking 2-1 triumph.

It appears as if the Proteas, if James is correct, will thus be revisiting in 2012 three of the four venues employed on the previous tour, the only absentee this time being Edgbaston in Birmingham.

Some Test enthusiasts are likely to be a little perplexed that West Indies, ranked only seventh as a Test power at present, will play as many as three Tests in England — these days it is more common for “minnows”, as the Caribbean side sadly are, to be given two-Test agendas against superpowers, thus freeing up more space for strength versus strength encounters.

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