Proteas: It’s back to ‘economy’ in Tests

Proteas celebrate in Hobart (Getty).
Proteas celebrate in Hobart (Getty).

Cape Town – Sorry, South African Test enthusiasts … your relative treat of last season is over, and not set for repetition any time soon.

Schedules can change, but at least in terms of the International Cricket Council’s intended Future Tours Programme (FTP) up to the end of 2019, the Proteas will play appreciably less of the five-day format than any of the other traditional “big four” powers in the world game.

The revelation by Cricket South Africa earlier this week of the home roster – all formats -- for the national team in the 2018/19 summer, was just one reminder of how economical their Test itinerary will be for the foreseeable future.

Fresh off stirring, keynote home series victories over India and Australia in a 2017/18 season that also featured shorter series against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (a total of 10 Tests), the Proteas’ Test programme on our turf for the looming summer dips to half that: five.

Pakistan represent the main opponents, over the prime “holiday season”, although even that series is curtailed to three Tests, and then Sri Lanka arrive for a further two.

In the case of the latter, it will be the second successive series between the countries in which an initially-intended three-Test series is slashed to two contests, as the same will apply when South Africa visit the island nation during this July and August and the accent is once again more on limited-overs fare.

But a glance at the global schedule a little further up the line, to end 2019, further highlights the Proteas’ poverty in Test-match terms.

From now to that date, South Africa are currently anticipated to play 16 Tests (nine home, seven away) … a figure that is well below any of the other superpowers.

Relatively unsurprisingly, England, one of the last countries able to consistently boast robust Test gates, have as many as 25 Tests in the period (13 home, 12 away), Australia 23 (14 home, nine away) and India 21 (seven home, 14 away).

It could be argued that at least one South African Test scheduled for the period was brought forward: next season’s intended home once-off against neighbours Zimbabwe was instead played in the vacant Boxing Day slot last summer, as India arrived later than initially anticipated for their series here.

But CSA, clearly concerned about the limited pulling power Pakistan and Sri Lanka will have here next season, have put far more of their eggs in the one-day international basket: there will be 13 ODIs (five each against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, three Zimbabwe).

The convenient spin from acting CEO Thabang Moroe was that they will use the plethora of 50-overs games as opportunities to “fine-tune their preparations for the 2019 World Cup”, something that naturally has a reasonable element of validity.

But to Test purists it may well begin to seem, all over again, that CSA are almost deliberately marginalising the five-day game, which already faces sustainability threats from so many angles the world over.

Certainly some of the Proteas’ more specialist Test players have reason to feel miffed, too, that over the next couple of years they seem destined to have considerably fewer opportunities to amass statistical achievements than counterparts from the other heavyweight countries.

One inadvertent blessing, perhaps, in South Africa’s quest to shift from current No 2 in the Test rankings to first spot, at the expense of India, is that the next year -- and a bit more -- represents a good opportunity to rack up series wins against “lesser” powers.

Their next really major Test engagements on paper, after all, only come when they tour India again in October 2019, followed in the 2019/20 home summer by a full visit here from England.

Although it has not yet been properly assembled, the long-awaited ICC World Test Championship, giving proper “league” context and relevance to the various bilateral series, is intended to begin soon after the 2019 World Cup in England, and for an initial period to a climax in 2021.

That may see some tweaks or additions to the current Test schedule.

South African Test fans would probably not be averse to seeing the latter phenomenon?

*Currently-envisaged (or already confirmed) SA Test series to end of 2019, in order: 2 v Sri Lanka (a, 2018), 3 v Pakistan (h, 2018/19), 2 v Sri Lanka (h, 2018/19), 2 v Zimbabwe (a, 2019), 3 v India (a, 2019/20), 4 v England (h, 2019/20). Total Tests: 16.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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