Sydney, Feb 2 (PTI) Australia on Tuesday postponed their tour of South Africa next month citing 'unacceptable health and safety risk' in that country because of a fresh COVID-19 outbreak, a decision that virtually knocks them out of contention from the World Test Championship final later this year.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) expressed its 'extreme disappointment' and frustration after the Australian team withdrew from the tour, during which it was scheduled to play a three-Test series, and said it will will have serious financial implications.
However, with the host nation battling a second wave of COVID-19 and a new variant of the virus, Cricket Australia's (CA) interim chief executive Nick Hockley on Tuesday said travelling to South Africa is not possible given the current scenario.
'...following extensive due diligence with medical experts it has become clear that travelling from Australia to South Africa at this current time poses an unacceptable level of health and safety risk to our players, support staff and the community,' Hockley said in a statement.
'We acknowledge the significant amount of work by CSA in planning for the tour, during which we made it clear that CA was prepared to take on additional cost and effort to make the series happen,' the statement read.
The announcement is a blow to Australia's chances of qualifying for the WTC final, scheduled to be played in June in England. The top two teams in the points table will make the final.
Expressing his displeasure in a press release issued by CSA, its director of cricket Graeme Smith said, 'We are extremely disappointed by the decision of CA.
'CSA has been working tirelessly in recent weeks to ensure that we meet every single expectation of CA,' Smith, a former South Africa captain, added.
'This was set to be the longest tour in a BSC (bio-safety cabinet or biological safety cabinet) comprising a three-match Test series that was scheduled to begin with Australia's arrival later in the month. So to be informed about the CA decision at the eleventh hour is frustrating.' Australia, currently third in the WTC points table behind leaders India and New Zealand, needed to win two Tests in South Africa and prevent their hosts from winning one, to ensure their spot in the inaugural WTC decider.
'This decision has not been made lightly and we are extremely disappointed, especially given the importance of continuing international cricket at this time, our valued relationship with CSA, and our aspirations to compete in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship,' Hockley said.
For Australia to have a chance at qualification, India and England will need to draw at least twice in their four-Test series starting on Friday.
'...we have been consistent since the start of the pandemic that health and safety of our people is always our number one priority and unfortunately despite best efforts to agree to a bio-security plan, the risks are simple too great at this time,' Hockley said 'As difficult and disappointing a decision as this is , especially for Justin, Tim and the team, we have a duty of care to our people and their health and safety can't be compromised.' In the CSA release, its chief medical officer, Dr Shuaib Manjra, added that there was nothing more the host board could have done 'to appease CA and prepare more appropriately'.
'The protocols we had proposed to CA were unprecedented,' he stated.
'Firstly, we had agreed that our own Proteas team would enter the BSE 14 days prior to the arrival of the Australian team, thus altering their planning during the current tour of Pakistan.
'Amongst some of the other key arrangements made were that all four areas (two hotels and two venues) had a protocol to implement a strict BSE with no contact with anybody outside this area.
'We subsequently agreed to two separate BSEs and had granted Australia full and exclusive use of the Irene Country Lodge, which we shared with Sri Lanka, with a minimum staff present on site.' This is the second series to be postponed in South Africa due to COVID-19. Last year, England had pulled out of their tour midway through an ODI series after there was an outbreak of cases in the team hotel.
Pholetsi Moseki, CSA's acting chief executive officer said, 'It is indeed sad that after all the engagements and effort made to ensure a secure visit by our Australian counterparts, the tour has been derailed.
'CSA has incurred significant costs related to the planning stages and the cancellation of the tour represents a serious financial loss.' Australia had also postponed their tour of Bangladesh last year. New dates for the Bangladesh or South Africa tours are yet to be announced.
'We look forwards to playing the series against CSA at a date that to be confirmed in due course and we send CSA and the people of South Africa our very best wishes for a successful roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine and a return to normality,' Hockley said. PTI APA PM KHS KHS