Bleak Test outlook for Proteas

Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The disturbing marginalisation of South African cricket on the international pecking order, particularly in Test terms, is only going to become increasingly apparent over the next year and beyond.

Enjoy the strength-versus-strength -- yet tragically and revealingly only two-Test – mini-series in Sri Lanka later this month, folks: it could be the last truly meaningful challenge the No 2-ranked Proteas have in the five-day arena for some 15 months.

It has already been known for some time that the International Cricket Council is to rather sickeningly, depressingly have its strings pulled from now on by a commercially all-powerful trio of India, England and Australia, with the remainder of the traditional Test-playing nations simply scavenging for whatever crumbs may be on offer to them.

Those three will become a convenient little mafia, ensuring that they play each other as often as possible on a global roster already tilting increasingly obviously away from the time-honoured, long-form game to cram in as much one-day cricket in both formats as can be exploited.

Over the past few days, the icy blast of winter to South African enthusiasts only got more hostile when it became known that the country will have no initial say on the five-member ICC executive committee.

Wally Edwards (Australia) is the chair, and the other two permanent members are England (Giles Clarke) and India, represented by the controversial N Srinivasan who is avowedly no friend of the South African cause and was recently installed as new ICC chairman.

Two additional members of the panel will be elected every two years, and tellingly South Africa has no immediate presence: instead West Indies’ David Cameron and Pakistan’s Najam Sethi crack the nod.

Other committees announced similarly had no South African representation – we are the only Full Member nation in that impotent position.

And if Test cricket is your preferred cup of tea, don’t expect much in the way of blue-chip activity for the Proteas until as distant a date as October 2015 when they supposedly travel to India for a provisionally-intended three-Test series (cynics are bound to be concerned that it may even be condensed to two, given India’s preoccupation with the limited-overs game and antagonism toward SA).

Once back from Sri Lanka, where at least a 1-0 win is apparently required to take presently ring-rusty South Africa back to the top of the pile, the Proteas go into a period where ODI activity lopsidedly holds sway – officially, we will constantly be reminded that it is important for World Cup preparation – and any Test combat will be curtailed to questionable bursts against significantly weaker foes.

Beyond Sri Lanka, the Proteas will play a once-off Test in ninth-ranked Zimbabwe in August, and then the “headline” and only act of our domestic summer will be ... ta-daah! ... West Indies (eighth and unbudgingly so) in three Tests at Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

Once admittedly a formidable drawcard, the Caribbean side have been in the doldrums for not far from 25 years and they have just come off another lamentable outcome: a 2-1 home defeat to New Zealand.

You do wonder how enthusiastically and effectively CSA will be able to market the series, when even against agreeably stronger opponents it can be a challenge to get bums on seats at venues like St George’s Park and Kingsmead for Tests.

Before the latest setback, the West Indies Test scorecard reads: lost 2-0 to New Zealand (away), lost 2-0 to India (away); the losing streak is only broken by a home 2-0 disposal of similarly second-tier Zimbabwe in 2012/13.

Nor is a genuinely attractive Test series immediately in the pipeline for the Proteas after the Australia-New Zealand-staged World Cup in February and March 2014; a visit to 10th-placed minnows Bangladesh is next on the intended itinerary for Hashim Amla and company, with the again limited weight in ranking terms which that expected victory would bring.

In the meantime Australia, a whisker ahead of South Africa in top spot on the table (and I, for one, am not yet fully convinced of the mathematical or moral legitimacy of that situation), can look forward to four Tests against India in their own 2014/15 season.

England? Though wobbling at present in a rebuild phase, a plump five-Test home series against the Indians is imminent, and it will be only next season that another lucrative Ashes – hold on, it seems like we’ve only just done back-to-back ones? – is staged on their soil.

You just get the powerful feeling that it is going to be deemed inconvenient to have a country like South Africa at the top of the Test pile – long series will increasingly become the lone preserve of the “big three” between themselves because they make the most monetary sense – and devious steps will be taken in scheduling terms to prevent the pesky Proteas from spoiling that forced equilibrium.

That, I fear, is simply the new, uncaring and crooked world landscape we will live in.

That will be life at the wonky plastic table.

Push down those serviettes, please, I think they’re about to blow off ...

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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