(Australian Associated Press)
Australia’s Test tour of South Africa is looking increasingly unlikely after the country recorded one million cases of COVID-19 as a new variant of the coronavirus emerged.
Australia are set for a three-Test tour in mid-February, but a number of hurdles must be cleared before it can be ticked off.
Cricket Australia is still working closely with its South African counterpart on a possible plan to cover logistical, safety and biosecurity concerns.
Issues that plagued the recently abandoned England tour, where local players and hotel staff were infected, would need to be addressed.
Publicly, CA is committed to doing all it can to have the tour go ahead while mindful of a strong duty of care to its players.
However, with the departure date six weeks away, the reality is that time is fast running out.
South Africa on Monday became the 18th country to register one million confirmed COVID cases, with daily numbers equivalent to the June peak.
Medical experts have also expressed fears over what they believe is a more contagious variant of the virus sweeping the country.
Interim Australian Cricketers Association boss Joe Connellan said he expected CA to take a cautious approach around the tour.
“Cricket Australia do come from this from a very conservative position and you can see with the tightness of the current of protocols,” Connellan told SEN.
“Pat Cummins was on the record very recently saying that players are at a level of anxiousness around this.”
The fate of the Sydney Test remains the most pressing matter for CA, but the South African series is not far behind.
While border challenges are the biggest threat to the Sydney Test, NSW’s rolling seven-day average of 7.6 compared to South Africa’s 11,784 highlights the concerns.
There had been talk of playing the series in Perth which would assist South Africa’s television deals, but that looks unlikely.
The tour would have been one of the most anticipated to South Africa, given Australia’s ball-tampering scandal there in 2018.
It also stands to create a possible headache for officials and players.
Australia have a five-match Twenty20 tour of New Zealand at the same time, which could figure as a more appealing option for some given there is no need to quarantine on return.
Some players, including Steve Smith, David Warner, Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have been in bubbles since they played in England in August.
Sri Lanka this week began their brief two-Test tour of South Africa after initial trepidation.
But even that could have further ramifications, with England’s tour of Sri Lanka that follows now in some doubt as a result.