Proteas backlog? What backlog? IPL rules world cricket's roost

Kagiso Rabada
Kagiso Rabada
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  • SA cricket's early summer intentions will be curtailed by the demands of another bloated IPL.
  • Graeme Smith has warned that the Proteas could face an unusual barrage of fixtures from November onward.
  • The cream of our country's limited-overs players are earmarked for the IPL, despite lingering travel doubts. 

An extraordinary year for international cricket ... with a pressing backlog of series, across the three major formats.

But very little changes on at least one conspicuous front: The lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) has officially now muscled its way into a prime window for its annual staging, though in the United Arab Emirates this time, between 19 September and 10 November.

It was confirmed this week, pending only final government go-ahead, by Indian cricket's influential controlling body the BCCI, who said the venues for the juggernaut Twenty20 league would be split between neutral Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi in bio-secure settings.  

That is an expansive period of some seven and a half weeks at a time when numerous nations badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic will be desperately hoping to get their cricket - and many broader activities in life - properly back up and running.

South Africa will be no exception: Mid-September already represents quite advanced cricketing pre-season, traditionally, in many parts of the country and the peak of the virus is also tipped by medical forecasters to have just passed by then.

The public will be itching to see, for example, the Proteas national men's team back in action after an unprecedented - at least in modern times - period of competitive dormancy stretching back to 7 March, when they wrapped up the home ODI series against Australia 3-0 with a six-wicket victory in Potchefstroom to end a decidedly iffy 2019/20 summer on a high.

Although Australia's regionally unstable Covid-19 status and various flight lockdowns across the planet were significant factors in the decision, remember that a multinational jamboree which might have been the perfect way to welcome back every major power to combat during October - the ICC T20 World Cup - has been pushed back by at least a year.

Instead, the IPL gleefully fills that space, as the franchise tournament will be at its very peak during that month.

Cynics will mutter, hardly without reason, that there are some "US$534 million in reasons" for the IPL hogging nearly two months of looming cricket space in the reawakening period: That is how much it is estimated the BCCI would have lost should the latest edition of the IPL (initially earmarked for customary March) not have taken place.

But it will also do little to bury the burgeoning perception that Indian cricket's needs and associated, titanic commercial clout hugely hold sway in international cricket.

The more than two months of "IPL time" between its build-up (probably including quarantine-related issues) and finish has already been taken for granted in the corridors of the International Cricket Council, it seems, as being that event's exclusive, uninterrupted window.

Yet another scheduled bilateral series - Australia hosting West Indies in three T20 internationals in early October, which would have clashed with IPL - has been postponed, even if ostensibly for Covid-linked reasons.

The generous gap created for a full-length IPL, then, only aggravates further the backlog of games to make up by several top-tier international teams.

South Africa are no different after a wholly inactive winter for the Proteas, which featured the postponement of scheduled tours of both Sri Lanka and West Indies.

The home season really will not be able to gather any much-needed oomph until the completion of the IPL at the earliest, considering the intended presence there of headline SA stars like AB de Villiers, Imran Tahir, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi, Chris Morris, Quinton de Kock and David Miller.

There is a possible curveball to their participation, even if it turns out to be only for part of the tournament: South Africa is still a closed international-airspace zone, with only occasional repatriation flights currently taking place.

But for CSA purposes, the organisation will provisionally have to assume the marquee Proteas figures will be absent from our shores for the first few weeks of the season.

No wonder CSA's director of cricket Graeme Smith felt a need at the weekend to warn of a looming logjam in catch-up matches for the national side: "We are struggling to find time ... with the IPL being fitted in.

"I expect that once things get up and running, our team, on the men's side, I would say from November onwards, if all goes well ... it will be a really busy period for South African cricket, probably playing in times that we haven't played before and trying to cram in a lot of the missed tours."

But first there's the effective roadblock that is the IPL - slightly longer than last year's, despite all the havoc to world cricket more recently - to contend with.

Indian Premier League? It's somehow sacrosanct.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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