THE Super Rugby season has just started and will run for about eight months. South Africa’s Test cricket summer has just finished and will not start again for around eight months. Over-consumption and starvation, side by side in the modern world of professional sport.
The brilliant Proteas were due to play Sri Lanka in three Test matches in July and August, but these have been postponed until 2015 at the request of the Sri Lankan board. They needed the extra time to organise what they still hope will be a lucrative, domestic Twenty20 league. The Proteas will still go, but just for a couple of Twenty20 internationals and five one-day internationals.
The next Test cricket will not be until October, when Graeme Smith will lead the team to the desert of the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan — again. Back-to-back series against the same team. Odd? Still, if England and Australia can play back-to-back Ashes series, who are we to complain?
There was some good news for Test cricket lovers earlier this month when it emerged that talks had begun between Cricket South Africa and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to add a fourth Test match to next summer’s visit by India — a tour that includes an eye-bulging seven one-day internationals. For a moment it even seemed likely, with both boards expressing a willingness to add another Test — until it came down to money.
India travel straight to New Zealand from South Africa and the schedule is tight. There were only two options: play all four Tests back-to-back with just three or four days between them, or drop a couple of one-dayers and turn that series into a more digestible five matches.
The Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations has an agreement with the International Cricket Council (ICC) which controls the amount of playing days and guarantees a certain number of rest days. Four Test matches without an extended break in between is, therefore, not possible. But it was far more a possibility than dropping a couple of one-day internationals.
"Absolutely unthinkable," said a senior Cricket South Africa administrator. "That would cost R40m. India don’t come here every year, it is Cricket South Africa’s duty to maximise revenue and make sure we have enough to see us through the lean years." Fair enough.
However much you love Test cricket, and watching this extraordinary Proteas team in particular, it is naive and romantic to think the game’s administrators will prioritise the pure form of the game. Even if they too love it most.
Cricket is a business and, like every other global business, it is motivated by the bottom line. And the bottom line, almost exclusively, is controlled by India. The Ashes generates huge revenue and produces full stadiums in both countries, but just witness Australia’s obsequious sucking up to the BCCI over the last decade to understand that even Ashes series every two years aren’t enough to keep Cricket Australia in the manner to which it has become accustomed.
India will play five one-dayers in Zimbabwe in July — each worth more than $1m to the impoverished Zimbabwe Cricket. It will be enough to keep them alive until the next ICC event.
Zimbabwe are at the bottom of the food chain. It is no exaggeration to say that half (five) of the world’s Test-playing nations are completely dependent for their survival on the BCCI and the other four are seriously nervous about doing anything to upset them.
Believe it or not, the much maligned and routinely beleaguered ICC is full of good, honest and hardworking people. They oversee the game in 100-plus countries and organise a seven-league promotion-relegation tournament between them. They manage umpires, playing conditions, corruption (not very well) and drug testing. They are justifiably proud of a player and team ranking system that has provided some structure and sense to the random chaos of the Future Tours Programme.
The ICC is an efficient and well-meaning headboy, but the BCCI is the headmaster and only one of them has the keys to the school safe.