South Africa’s director of cricket Graeme Smith vented his frustration on Tuesday at Australia’s decision to withdraw from next month’s Test tour of the country due to the rampant spread of the coronavirus. Former Test captain Smith said Cricket South Africa had “bent over backwards” to meet Australia’s demands, only for their opponents to scrap the tour citing an “unacceptable risk”. He said he had received a call from Australia earlier on Tuesday expressing fears over Covid-19.
“We are extremely disappointed by the decision of CA (Cricket Australia)… To be informed about the CA decision at the eleventh hour is frustrating,” said Smith.
“The amount of work that’s gone in over the past few weeks in getting this tour under way has been immense.
“We’ve done everything possible to get the tour under way but there is that aspect of not being able to solve some of the fears Australia had.”
Australia’s withdrawal comes 12 days after then-interim board chairman, Zak Yacoob, said he was confident the tour would go ahead, although he cautioned that the unpredictability of the virus could cause plans to change.
At the time, South Africa was at the peak of a second wave of infections with new cases being reported at a rate of more than 10,000 a day.
Despite the emergence of a new variant, reported to be more infectious than the original virus, the rate of infections has slowed to around 5000 a day.
Some of the country’s tougher lockdown restrictions were eased by the government on Monday.
“Gone the extra mile”
In addition to Smith’s comments, CSA issued a statement in which it said every effort had been made to meet Australia’s “changing demands”, pointing out that a Test series against Sri Lanka and a current tour by the Pakistan women’s team had been conducted without any problems.
It had originally been planned that both the South African and Australian teams would stay in a bio-secure environment at a country club situated between the Test venues in Johannesburg and Centurion, as was the case when Sri Lanka toured in December and January.
But CSA medical officer Shuaib Manjra said it had been arranged that Australia would have exclusive use of the country club, with the South Africans staying in a separate facility.
CSA had also agreed that the country’s Test squad would enter a bio-secure facility 14 days before the Australians arrived.
To make this possible, the Test players currently in Pakistan are returning to South Africa immediately after the end of the second Test next Monday. What is largely a second-string team will play a Twenty20 series in Pakistan.
“CSA had also committed to importing an Australian tracking system at great cost to ensure proper tracking of close contacts in the event of a positive test,” said Dr Manjra.
“The touring team was also going to be granted VIP access through the airports, after government intervention to ensure this privilege.
“These are just some of the protocols that CSA was to put in place. We had really gone the extra mile to make sure that the tour would proceed.”
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