It would be fair to say that we know very little about politics here at 51allout. Other than that anyone who makes a living from the practice should be held with the utmost contempt. So the recent rumblings emanating from the ICC have left us severely non-plussed. To us, the emergence of the ‘Big Three’ only seems to formally confirm what had already existed. And anyway, is a game dominated by its three biggest members that much of a problem? Maybe their new found responsibility will force them to take more of an interest in the well-being of the smaller nations than they previously had shown.
Like we said, we know next to nothing about politics.
But we don’t think cricket’s new order means the other nations ought to be considered utterly ostracized. Unless fans hope for a future of nothing but Test series between England, Australia, and India (God help us), there must be room for some of the others as well. And the nation most in need of a place at the table is South Africa.
South Africa may have dominated Test cricket for the past, oooh, five years or so, but the one thing they have lacked (other than a proper spinner) is a real rivalry. Australia and England have the Ashes, India and Pakistan occasionally have series that are nearly as exciting as the nuclear exchanges that inevitably follow. South Africa have nothing. Even their series against the ‘Big Three’ are small scale affairs. For the health of South African cricket that really needs to change. And of their possible opponents, it’s Australia that are best suited to provide the opposition in such a rivalry.
Australia and South Africa already have a pretty healthy rivalry, one born of near two decades of hard-fought competitive Test cricket (as opposed to one born of a zany headline that appeared in a newspaper back in the day). There has been far more competitive cricket played between the two over this period than there has been in the last two decades of the Ashes. There is also a great deal of respect between the two nations, shown not only on the field but also in the commentary box. A stark difference to the last Ashes series where each set of commentators could barely stand each other. Except for the nationalistically confused Mark Nicholas, who is simply hated by everyone.
But what series between the two have lacked is hype. They are often played so far out of season that it is difficult for many to get excited about them. The last series in Australia was played so early that the pitches were abnormally flat. This series is being played so late most fans seem to be more interested in the rugby (and the South African players seem to have forgotten how to bat, bowl and field). Without the buildup that an Ashes series gets, contests between the two are often reduced to side-shows, when the real action is occurring elsewhere.
The problem is largely one of logistics. Australia like to spend their summers mostly playing at home, and that’s never going to change. South Africa likewise prefer to spend their summers on their own turf. What’s needed is a firm commitment to suffer short term financial pain for the sake of long term gain. For the Australian domestic international calendar to finish in early January would appear heresy, but if it meant the national team could spend the months of January and February in South Africa, playing a five Test series in front of packed houses, it would be worth it. Especially since the Big Bash ought to somewhat cover domestic needs, with the prospect of a reciprocal tour from South Africa to help balance the books.
That administrators are about as likely to deliberately suffer short term fiscal pain as we are to clean the bathroom unprompted indicates why a proper rivalry between South Africa and Australia has never taken off. But now, more than ever, such a thing is needed. We are not arguing that it should come at the expense of the Ashes. Although jokes about Australia having effectively played South Africa in the Ashes for the past five years are genuinely funny, there is room for both series. What’s needed is a bit leadership to get them both up off the ground. And then when that’s happened Australia can turn and at last get stuck into developing a proper rivalry with New Zealand.
Yeah, alright, we know less about cricket administration than we do about politics.