Cricket South Africa will breathe a sigh of relief, thinking they had pulled off a coup. But while the audition might have gone great, the challenges ahead of them suggest Australia will still be on the fence.
South Africa have been angry at England and Wales Cricket Board over England’s truncated tour and causing aspersions that their move and attempt to denounce the CSA’s ability to create a biosecure bubble was an attempt to dissuade Australia from touring South Africa. With the series against Sri Lanka out of the way though, South Africa will still have to sweat it out.
The death knell seemed to have been sounded on a troubled CSA after England decided the panic in their own camp over the false positives and the supposed breach of Covid protocols was enough to pack their bags midway through the tour and head back home. A distraught CSA, already caught in a spate of controversies of its own with regard to administrative loopholes and financial irregularities, came out guns blazing, accusing the ECB of undermining their efforts.
For South Africa, it became critically important not only for the team on the field to show results that would reveal South Africa’s cricket prospects in a better light but also, and perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate their capability to host a full tour, looking ahead to the financially crucial Australia’s tour of South Africa.
To South Africa’s credit, they kept their eyes on the task ahead of them and instead of worrying about the allegations of protocol breach on the part of some South African cricketers made light of Sri Lanka’s challenges, coming largely from their captain’s bat.
However, while it can be argued that Sri Lanka have not been at their best for a while and South Africa have been going down on the field in a rather steady and alarming decline over the past three years, therefore, making the series itself less significant, in the context of teams outside of the big three remaining in context, it will be a highly historic series, in the age of the pandemic.
But South Africa’s troubles are far from over.
Despite South Africa successfully hosting Sri Lanka for a two-Test series over Christmas and New Year and also, showing a willingness to do more than show up on the field, the pandemic troubles are far from over.
While Australia is participating as hosts for India’s tour down under, they are having to assess the series on a match by match basis after fresh outbreaks in Sydney and Brisbane at the turn of the year. Furthermore, with the revelation of new variants of the coronavirus pandemic being labelled as coming from the UK and South Africa, there appears that more than a successful bio-secure environment planning, South Africa are also battling challenges outside of their control.
While South Africa made a great show of strength by showing up on the field, determining to nip Sri Lanka’s challenges in the bud, neither they nor Sri Lanka can breathe easy in terms of their competitiveness or their hosting abilities as Sri Lanka return home to face England, returning after aborting their tour last year.