South Africa likely to focus on T20Is than Tests in Future Tours Programme (FTP) cycle 2023-27 despite their fabulous run in Test Cricket.
Just three days after the release of the new men’s Future Tours Programme (FTP) by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for the 2023-2027 season, South Africa with lots of faith and dine sense of judgment reaped rewards when they blew away a rising England side inside three days at Lord’s in the first Test of Basil D’Oliveira Trophy 2022.
The young Protea side performed beyond expectations and it resulted in England’s only innings defeat at home in almost seven years.
Under gritty Dean Elgar, South Africa have flourished
Whether at home or abroad, South Africa under their courageous leader, Dean Elgar have come up through the ranks in the longest format of the game even with a young and inexperienced side in the last one year or so.
In the middle of last year, they earned an easy series victory in the Caribbean in a two-match Test series. Lots of noise was built up around the home series against India who smelled their best chance under their former captain Virat Kohli to grab their first Test series victory in South Africa and when the latter managed a 113-run victory in the series opener at SuperSport Park in Centurion, the home side found themselves against the clock.
But South Africa came back hard and demolished India’s dream thanks to a spirited show from their players as they clinched the series with two back-to-back victories in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Just a few weeks later, when South Africa reached New Zealand for a two-match Test series, they were expected to do a decent job against the inaugural World Test Championship winners. But the start of the series wasn’t what the Proteas had perhaps imagined especially after what they did against India. South Africa could manage only 95 and 111 in both their innings lost the series opener in Christchurch by an innings and 276 runs.
With a much better batting performance in the second Test, they crossed 350+ in both the innings at Hagley Oval; the Proteas caged the home side to draw the series with a 198-run victory and promptly levelled the series.
In the middle of March, when Bangladesh reached the rainbow nation, few of the South African players denied to be a part of the two-match Test series because of their lucrative deals in the Indian Premier League (IPL). It hardly mattered to the home side who downed the Asian country with two heavy victories to seize the series comfortably.
Before arriving in England, who counted four Test match triumphs in this home summer under their new ‘all-attack’ approach that they call ‘Bazball’, there was a shrill war of words between the two sides. What happened at Lord’s inside three days especially after two sessions on the first day were washed out due to heavy shower was a prime example of the fabulous force of the Proteas.
And with all the victories, South Africa sit firmly at the top of the World Test Championship points table with a points percentage of 75. With still two Test matches in the ongoing England series besides the upcoming three-match away Test series against Australia at the end of the year to go, South Africa may play another Test match at Lord’s in 2023 during the final of the World Test Championship (WTC) 2021-23.
ICC’s new FTP cycle puts South Africa’s Test cricket future at gunpoint
The brand-new FTP released by ICC has put South Africa’s future in Test cricket under a bit of a threat.
The Proteas are going to play just 28 Test matches in their next four-year cycle which is two fewer than what they are scheduled to play in the ongoing four-year period from 2019 to 2023, however, South Africa will end up playing 27 Test matches in the current cycle because of the cancellation of their three-Test home series against Australia due to Covid.
“We needed to find a balance between the new league and bilateral cricket,” Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) CEO Pholetsi Moseki addressed to ESPNcricinfo. “We needed to create enough space so that we would not have international fixtures clashing with our new league.”
Even after the growth of South African cricket in the red ball game, the number of Test matches they are going to play is certainly a concern. Among their scheduled 28 Tests, South Africa will play 26 Test matches in the next cycle of the WTC except their two Tests against Zimbabwe.
The main issue is that South Africa’s 28 Test matches in the next 2023-2027 season is marginally higher than Ireland (12), Zimbabwe (20), Afghanistan (21), Sri Lanka (25), West Indies (26) and Pakistan but are widely lesser than Australia (40), India (38) and England (43).
“We know that you need to play a minimum of two Tests in a series for the World Test Championship and so that’s what we’ve done,” Moseki explained how despite having a chance of making a place in the 2023 WTC final, the unsustainable future is reflected in the new FTP. “It’s sad that we don’t play more Tests especially for purists.”
“With Test cricket, it’s just iconic nations” - Graeme Smith
The purest and longest form of the game seems to be second in the priority list for South Africa looking at the next season’s FTP cycle. The number of T20Is, which is 46 for South Africa, is on the higher side. There are also chances that Test cricket could end up being contested between only four or five countries in future.
“With Test cricket, it’s just iconic nations or the big cricketing nations that are contributing at the moment,” CSA’s T20 league commissioner, Graeme Smith speaking on Sky Sports on day three of the first Test match between England and South Africa, predicted.
“I think it’s fantastic especially under Virat Kohli that India really took Test cricket seriously; but as long as we’ve got competitive teams, you’re not going to have 10,11,12,13 or 14 competitive teams.”
Smith admitted that South Africa will not show any intent to not play Test cricket but the format seems to be getting far away. They aren’t going to play any three-match Test series in the next 2023-2025 World Test Championship (WTC).
Their new born baby, the CSA T20 league has been built by sacrificing their One Day International (ODI) series in Australia which may cost them a direct chance to qualify for the ICC ODI World Cup 2023 in India. Their new T20 league, which is expected to begin soon after the end of the New Year’s Test will bring millions of Rands in South African cricket that will allow them to maintain its longevity as a business.
The issue for them is if South Africa don’t make room for their new league, then players may fly to the other leagues like the Big Bash League (BBL) in Australia or new structured International League T20 (ILT20) in United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“I feel that if we hadn’t done this South African cricket could have probably lost eight to ten players to this UAE league,” Smith expressed his fear.
Despite of a smaller number of Tests, the South African Cricketer’s Association (SACA) and its members which is a body of South Africa’s domestic and international players will throw more weight behind the new CSA T20 league.
“It’s certainly going to be an investment into our game that South African cricket desperately needed,” Smith clarified that world cricket can’t afford South Africa or any other nations to start fading away. “The pressure on nations like New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa to stay financially sustainable to keep up with England, India and the world game to stay competitive is huge.”
Smith also believed that this new league will see the talent pool getting stronger and benefit the game across the board. Even though the six teams in CSA’s new league have been bought by IPL owners, Cricket South Africa is still the major shareholder in this league and the investment into their game is still going to occur.
South Africa will play the second Test of Basil D’Oliveira Trophy 2022 against England starting on August 25 at Old Trafford in Manchester.