Australia preferred three South Africa Tests
Australian cricket administrators met the formal announcement of a truncated Test series against South Africa by saying they would have preferred to play three matches rather than two. The slim provision for five-day matches has been explained as the by-product of a distended schedule, which is swollen still further by the presence of the Twenty20 Champions League. Also of note is the series' status as a return favour for South Africa's presence in Australia for the prime Boxing Day and New Year's Tests in Melbourne and Sydney over several tours, which kept them overseas at peak time in their own country.
"We would prefer to play three Tests and the discussion we're having with South Africa is around playing four the next time we go there," A Cricket Australia spokesman told ESPNcricinfo. "Bear in mind this is two bonus Test matches - this particular visit to South Africa is over and above what the FTP originally contemplated, and it is part of negotiation we had with them about them playing the Boxing Day Test here in Australia the last two times they played.
"We, as part of the negotiation, agreed to play cricket in South Africa so they could have the Australian team as a draw-card for their home market."
The Champions League will once again sit uneasily in between Australia's international commitments, this time in Sri Lanka and South Africa, but CA remains bullish about the need for international players to be capable of adapting. The spectre of Michael Hussey and Doug Bollinger, and their horrendous preparation for last year's series in India, still hangs over the team.
"Michael Hussey and us agreed to disagree about that particular timing last summer, but if you talk to cricketers around Australia, none of them have a sense that their preparation is or has been compromised by say our approach to the Ashes last summer," the spokesman said. "It is a fact of life the world has got three formats and is very different from when all Australia did was play five Test matches every summer, and modern professional cricketers are used to that.
"The FTP is not quite resolved yet, and long term there is a view that as we get further into the future it might be possible to play less international cricket, for the time being what we've got is what we've got."
The series does provide the Australian team with the most comprehensive of lead-ins to the home summer, affording the chance to play on wickets similar to those found in Brisbane and Hobart for two home Tests against New Zealand, which will be followed by four against India in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide.
"From our point of view what it does is it gives us a four-day match, two Test matches as the immediate preparation before we play Test cricket in Australia next summer," the spokesman said. "So it is convenient preparation as we go into the New Zealand series and then our Indian summer."
Australia's return home in late November will mean a later than usual start to the New Zealand Tests, but that may prove useful as anticipation grows for a series that would otherwise be a modest seller.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo