Only five days after announcing the Australian squad set to leave for South Africa, Cricket Australia have done a volte-face and have now called off the tour altogether. While the coronavirus pandemic is being cited as the reason, there is a deeply disturbing argument that is once again surfacing with this belated announcement.

South Africa had already made plans to fly back players like their captain, Quinton de Kock, from Pakistan in preparation for the upcoming tour on the part of Australia. Australia’s selectors went on to announce the squad expected to make the flight. Yet Cricket Australia abruptly announced that it felt that the tour posed an “unacceptable” health and safety risk and therefore, was forced to arrive at that difficult decision.

What makes this decision particularly shocking is that Cricket Australia was apparently already in talks to have South Africa fly to Australia and even stage the Tests in Perth in the event that some of the Australian cricketers and staff felt it unsafe to travel to the African continent. With one of the latest mutant viruses said to have originated from South Africa, after identifying another UK variant, there was a level of doubt even as the South African government kept shifting the levels of lockdown.

The timing is crucial since the announcement comes on the heels of South Africa reducing the level of threat posed by the virus, and claiming to have now gone past the peak of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. That Cricket Australia would come to this announcement was not expected, particularly after the team members were made known of their position in terms of selection in the wake of the shock Test series defeat to India down under by a 2-1 margin.

What Cricket Australia’s announcement also does is add credence, reasonably or otherwise, to the argument pitched forth by an angry Cricket South Africa in the aftermath of England’s abrupt departure midway through the tour of South Africa late last year.

Even as England claimed breach of protocol and lack of enough safety measures to make the players feel unsafe as the reason for why the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) make the sudden decision to cancel the tour midway after false-positive cases, CSA came out in defence of their own preparations, claiming that it was England who flouted the rules for access to additional training facilities and also, to play golf.

Even more potentially dangerous was the accusation from CSA that the move on the part of the ECB was a signal to the others in the big three – namely, India and Australia. CSA even predicted that the ECB’s pullout would mean CA would follow suit. Today’s decision only adds fuel to the fire.

CA could well argue that the decision was not premeditated and arrived at after careful consideration of the facts and assessment by the medical officers. However, that CA has not alluded formally to a conversation behind doors about the possibility of having South Africa’s players fly to Australia for the Test series which was on the table before the ECB decision suggests Australia is not intent on pursuing this matter at this point in time.

It is a strange move, and if indeed Cricket Australia was contemplating having South Africa over, it might have been the better idea. Not only would it have given Australia a chance to pick off the rough edges that South Africa is currently but also, give them another opportunity to lay stake for the ICC Test championship final in England in June.

Given that Australia’s defeat to India has caused a huge problem of qualification for the hosts and that New Zealand have looked to upstage the party of the big three, it might have been the far more prudent option.

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