Australia’s rapid implosion as a Test team, going from the number one ranked side in August to their current shambles, was unexpected but there have been warning signs in their cricket for a while and they are similar to the problems South African rugby is experiencing at the moment.
A focus on chasing money and the commercial aspects of the game has been allowed to mar the systems and structures that were in place to ensure that Australia’s Test team – as well as, at times, the Springboks – were always at the pinnacle of the game.
The Big Bash T20 league is obviously a wonderful, exciting occasion in the Australian sporting calendar, but it seems it has become the most important part of the cricket season, Cricket Australia’s priority and something that is pushing everything else on to the periphery.
There was a time that the four-day Sheffield Shield competition was Australia’s premier domestic tournament and the envy of the world; nowadays it seems almost an afterthought and pace bowlers are pulled out of games midway through by national team management using medical protocols that have little basis in actual cricketing wisdom.
The most amazing example of T20 taking over to the detriment of everything else Down Under will come in February. Six days before Australia play the first Test against India in Pune, starting what is an incredibly daunting tour for a struggling team, a three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka starts in Melbourne.
International cricket was always about the best from each country playing against each other, but either Australia send a second-string team to India or their reserves will be playing in the T20 series. The last T20 will be played the night before the first Test starts!
Some of the Australian media were understandably outraged by the scheduling and, in the wake of the series loss to the magnificent Proteas, they have given their team and administrators both barrels and deservedly so.
Other Australian media have, however, resorted to blame-shifting and a video focusing on South African captain Faf du Plessis doing two perfectly legal things – eating a sweet on the field and using his saliva to shine the ball – albeit at the same time, was always going to go viral and attract the interest of the International Cricket Council.
But if they do punish Du Plessis, what are they going to do about players using sunscreen and then wiping their sweat on the ball? How about the ubiquitous Australian practice of chewing gum on the field, that is also like steroids for saliva.
South African cricket is currently basking in a glorious, phenomenal third successive series win in Australia that is going to be remembered for a long time because of the resilience and team unity they have shown, especially in the absence of big guns AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn.
But we also need to be wary that our administrators aren’t going to go down the same route as their Australian counterparts; there have been enough instances of South African sporting administrators chasing the bucks instead of what is going to be best for the game for us to be cautious.
Which is why, when I see the Proteas and Sri Lanka will be playing the third Test in Johannesburg from January 12-15, and the two Gauteng teams, the Titans and the Lions, will be playing a potentially crucial Sunfoil Series game at exactly the same time, I wonder if our four-day cricket is also going to be neglected, leading to the demise of our wonderful Test side?
Surely it can’t be too hard for the schedulers to say: “There’s going to be a Test in Johannesburg that week, let’s make sure that both Gauteng teams are playing away from home?”
Let the Australian malaise be a warning to us, no matter how smug and happy we are currently feeling.