The Australian Cricketers’ Association says players will commit to Test matches in South Africa ahead of the easier route of playing Twenty20 cricket in New Zealand. Sean Abbott on Monday became the latest player to declare his preference was Test cricket, even if it meant warming the bench rather than playing.
Despite the country battling a contagious new strain of coronavirus, Cricket South Africa is looking increasingly likely to host Australia for three Tests in March. That had at one stage looked likely to present tired multi-formatted players with a tantalising option of chosing white-ball cricket with both tours run at the same time.
While the five-match T20 series in New Zealand will not require quarantine on return, players in South Africa will be in a hard bubble for around a month before a fortnight’s hotel stay when they arrive back in Australia.
The South Africa visit will also be the first time Australia has played red-ball matches in the country since the 2018 ball-tampering scandal.
“I don’t believe people will be looking for the easy route of T20 in New Zealand rather than a Test tour,” ACA chairman Greg Dyer said. “They still want to play Test cricket. They recognise that they have a responsibility to the game, which actually transcends borders.
“And they will need to potentially travel internationally in order to make good those responsibilities. We’re all on the same page in this. Cricket stands fairly united in terms of the way in which we want to go forward.”
If both tours go ahead, it will raise several questions over the star power of the T20 team in a World Cup year. Selectors would likely want to take considerable back-up on the Test tour, given the difficulties associated with flying in players.
Abbott, Moises Henriques and Mitchell Swepson all played in Australia’s last T20 and were unused squad members during the 2-1 Test series loss to India. While Abbott will basically be guaranteed a game against the Black Caps, the New South Wales quick has his heart set on making a long-awaited Test debut.
“I’m not in the privileged position to have the choice and to say to JL [coach Justin Langer] ’I want to go here or there’,” he said. “The dream is always to play Test cricket and I can’t play Test cricket if I’m in New Zealand, so I would definitely prefer to be going to South Africa with a chance of playing Test cricket.”
Alex Carey, who is seen as a long-term successor to Tim Paine as Australia’s Test wicketkeeper, said last week he would rather run drinks in South Africa than play in the white-ball series.
Carey was recently squeezed out of Australia’s T20 team but the 28-year-old would be a near-certain starter in New Zealand given the absence of Test players.
Abbott conceded players had some concerns about the 10,000 new cases of coronavirus per day in South Africa, but has put his faith in the experts. “They wouldn’t send us over there unless they were 100% certain they could keep us safe,” he said.
It comes as Todd Greenberg was appointed chief executive of the ACA – his first big job since quitting as NRL CEO last year.
Covid-19 remains cricket’s biggest challenge and while tensions between players and officials cooled last year, there remains a significant broadcaster issue. That will make Greenberg’s first two years crucial amid pay talks, with the current memorandum of understanding to expire in 2022.