India in South Africa 2013-14 October 30, 2013

Venue allocation short on cricketing reasons

"Centralising venues" is a limp explanation for the curious fixture list for India's tour of South Africa

During South Africa's sporting isolation, the marquee fixture of the cricketing summer was a north-south derby: a first-class match between Western Province and Transvaal played in Cape Town over New Year's. There were times in the last few months when those fixtures were reminisced about with more gusto than usual.

The joke was, that if India's tour to South Africa was cancelled altogether, something along those lines would need to happen again. The people at Newlands won't find that so funny anymore.

Cape Town, which was this week unveiled as third of Lonely Planet's top 10 cities to visit in 2014, has been snubbed for the India series. It was originally due to host a Twenty20, an ODI and the traditional New Year's Test but has been left with nothing.

It's a lot less than Cape Town expected, even when the customary January 2 fixture was ruled out because of the window offered by India which ended on December 31, because there was still enough to go around. Not so, Cricket South Africa said.

They cited "centralising venues" as the reason for leaving Newlands off an itinerary which has given the Wanderers and Kingsmead an ODI and Test each while allowing Centurion's SuperSport Park to keep the one game it was initially promised. Had Benoni's Willowmoore Park or Potchefstroom's Senwes Park been given the Durban games, "centralising venues" may be believable.

South Africa is not a big enough country to have travel times so great they need to be minimised, unless one is driving. Durban is an hour's flight from Johannesburg, Cape Town is two. Simplifying logistics is nothing more than spin. Cape Town, it seems, was deliberately overlooked.

A cynic would assume it was a political decision. The New Year's Test was forced to be cancelled because India could only spend from December 1 to 31 in South Africa. Officially, they gave three reasons for that. Firstly, the players needed rest before New Zealand; secondly, their players needed to be home to play in the Ranji trophy quarter-finals; and thirdly, their Sahara sponsorship ends on the last day of 2013, so they cannot have a tour which overlaps a period between sponsors.

CSA's president Chris Nenzani repeated the third reason on radio when asked why the New Year's Test could not happen. When it was first revealed there would be no match in the first week of 2014, whispers began that the BCCI did not want to play in Cape Town to further marginalise CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat. Although not born in Cape Town - Port Elizabeth was where he spent his formative years - Lorgat played there later in his career and it was where his administrative career began.

Lorgat has already been sidelined from the tour and cannot deal with the BCCI for as long as he is under investigation from the ICC for his role in David Becker's statement, and it seems the place where he made his name is being treated in the same way.

Whether this kind of isolation will have an effect on the already fractured relationship between the boards is questionable. South African cricket politics, unlike India's, is not overly geographically polarised, although they have been whispers of a "Cape cabal" on the board, so the decision to leave Newlands off the fixture list cannot impact Lorgat specifically. Rather, it will hurt everyone in South African cricket.

No New Year's Test robs the country of the only opportunity it has to fill a stadium for a Test match. Last summer, the first two days were sold out and there were similar high numbers in past seasons. Western Province CEO Andre Odendaal pointed out that that fixture draws the "highest income from gate takings" for the entire home summer. The players regard it as the highlight of the summer and expressed their dissatisfaction with it being removed even before it was officially announced. At a press conference in the UAE, Graeme Smith said it was a match all the players got "excited about" and they would be gutted if it was not happening.

Now they have reason to be even more upset because Cape Town is not getting a game at all and, in a Test sense at least, that seems to be in the interests of fairness. Cape Town has hosted two Tests a summer for the last two seasons and with only five Tests to spread around the same number of venues this season, it seems logical for Newlands to have to relinquish one of its games.

But why India, at a peak time when the match could attract large numbers of spectators, rather than an Australia one later in the year, when even Cape Town, as was evident by last February's fixture against Pakistan, does not have big crowds? Some say it's because South Africa's superior record at Newlands - where they have not lost a Test since March 2006 and have only been defeated three times since readmission - makes it a place for opposition to avoid. But if India were concerned about a wicket they would have preferred not to play on the fast, bouncy Wanderers track.

Cape Town had to be sacrificed and it can console itself with the knowledge it will host Australia even as it questions why it did not get an ODI against India, for which there is little sensible explanation.

Cricketing reasons do not seem to be behind this decision. Rather, it's about keeping people happy. Durban had the Boxing Day Test taken away last year, and did not host a Test at all last summer. It had big plans when told the fixture was reinstated and was allowed to keep the India game, bringing great "relief" to the administrators there.

Johannesburg did not host a Test at all the previous time India toured South Africa because the stadium temporarily had its international status revoked by CSA after it was put into administration. It was also allowed to keep its Test this time. The myth about the city being a ghost town over December because its inhabitants flock to the coast is exactly that. Since the 2008 recession many stay in the city and are on the lookout for something to do.

So Cape Town had to be sacrificed and it can console itself with the knowledge it will host Australia even as it questions why it did not get an ODI against India, for which there is little sensible explanation. What the Newlands faithful should remember is that they are better off than some smaller venues, because they have not lost everything.

Bloemfontein and East London are the venues which were originally scheduled to host matches that will not have any international cricket as per the current schedule. Two of the smaller venues, both said they were disappointed at the outcome but remain hopeful they will be considered should CSA manage to organise a replacement tour.

Pakistan, who visited South Africa last summer for three Tests, five ODIs and two T20s and are currently engaged in a series against them in the UAE, have been approached by CSA to play some limited-overs matches in late November. The aim would be to make up for lost revenue from the India series, which has been cut from seven ODIs to three and no longer includes any T20s.

The grounds who will not host India will likely be the beneficiaries if Pakistan agree to fill the void and Newlands are first in the queue. "We are encouraged by CSA's statement that they are working on plans," Odendaal said. "It was going to be a very special summer and we hope to still have something." If all else fails, there's always the big north-south derby to keep in mind.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on October 31, 2013, 17:37 GMT

    Occam's Razor: "the simplest of several hypotheses is always the best in accounting for unexplained facts."

    This article's headline states "Venue allocation short on cricketing reasons." Not so: Firdose considers multiple complex reasons for a test in Durban, & not in Cape Town, but she misses the simple cricketing reasons.

    1. Durban has a many fans of Indian heritage. India find their strongest crowd support there. See Oraclebob's post!

    2. Kingsmead, home of test cricket's most famous game, the "Timeless Test," was a SA favorite, & their record there superb. From 91 to 08 SA lost 2 of 16 tests in Durban, with a 4.00 Win/loss ratio. Then, from 09, the pitch nicknamed Green Mamba, renowned for bounce & carry, dried up & became SA's jinx, it's nemesis. Between 09 & 11, SA lost 4 out of 4 tests there, including to India by an innings plus.

    3. Newlands is SA's slaughterhouse. See nzcricket174's post.

    The BCCI think Durban is India's best, maybe only, chance of winning. Simple, huh?

  • suresh kumar on October 31, 2013, 12:46 GMT

    @just_test_lover. Two white balls, no spin, no reverse swing are bcz of recent rule change. It will revert back to their previous form. Whatever ball it is, you need geniune skill to score that mantatory runs, to pick mantatory wicket, to restrict that runs in mantatory period of time. Clearly you cannot find that kind of situations more often in test matches. But odi's always put pressure on bowlers and batsman. I think 10 day test match is better than 5 day match, it really will test temperment, technique more.

    One line conclusion - you need to hit yorker to six sometimes, that is beauty of shorter format.

  • Justin on October 31, 2013, 12:02 GMT

    I hope all South African Boycott thesematches. Even those centre who get matches must stand behind South Africa not CSA. SA is the loser. We are getting told by BCCI what we can and can't do. Cancel the tour and format a local tournament with all Proteas player playing domestic cricket for a month. I am sure the fans will back you in support against BCCI . And who cares about ODI matches DRS_Flawed_NeedsImprovement? Its a white ball 2 new balls no reverse and no spin? its a format you test young players out in against. If the pass ODI they play test! Test is what is all that matters! and to play 2 is really sad!

  • suresh kumar on October 31, 2013, 11:42 GMT

    @Ralph Staniforth: test cricket is real cricket? Who said? Odi is the best cricket, let me explain. How could u say someone is great batsman if he cannot score mandatory 12odd runs in last over. How could u say someone is great bowler if he cannot defend mandatory 10odd runs or if he cannot pick a wicket that wins the match, in last over. Good batsman is who attacks good bowling NOT LET THEM GO. good bowlers has to pick the wicket 'that' time. that is the beauty of shorter format. All you can find in odi. In test, gud balls left by great batsman.

  • Srinivasan on October 31, 2013, 8:12 GMT

    @sramesh_74: Enough of the non-sense that India is deliberately trying to avoid SA in bouncy pitches. If you know anything, Cape Town is the most spin friendly pitch in SA although SA have a great record there. Last time India were dominating the test until Kallis came up with his marathon innings. Johannesburg and Durban are the fastest pitch in SA, although Durban's wicket looked like a sub-continental track when SL won there.

  • Dummy4 on October 31, 2013, 7:47 GMT

    @DRS_Flawed_NeedsImprovement So you think that India should ONLY play ODI's in SA because you rated no.1? Are you scared of playing real (test) cricket? It would seem as if you and the BCCI are both running scared. So be it, we'll beat you in the ODI series and the test series, then I wonder what you'll have to say.

  • Nanda Kumar on October 31, 2013, 7:12 GMT

    It is the prerogative of the home team to decide the venues. BCCI has maintained that when England have priviously objected to matches in Gawhati. I think this seems to be the way CSA wants things this year. There is no sense for the same centres to have both tests and ODIs , especially during a short tour. This should be squarely placed on CSAs door step and not blame BCCI. Having said this BCCi could have played the new year tests without sponsors. As I see it , it wuld hVe meant giving the players new clothing, without the Sahara branding. BCCI would not have made the sponsorship money for 1 test, which they are any way not making by not playing. Ranji trophy matchez is a poor excuse as I do not see any of the established players playing in the breKe before the NZ tour.

  • Ramesh on October 31, 2013, 5:47 GMT

    Was the BCCI trying to avoid the venue best suited for fast bowling? If it is true, it is only detrimental to the Indian batsmen. They will never learn how to survive and score in tough conditions. Chasing 350 in Nagpur is a walk in the park when compared with surviving the first session in Capetown. It would have made for captivating viewing. Again, cricket is the loser!!

  • suresh on October 31, 2013, 3:53 GMT

    now india is no1 in odi format and playing extremely well in all places, so we should have played 7 odi's ONLY against SA, and let the whole world to know that how good SA bowlers in ODI against no1 indian team. We all know SA team is chokers, and also including steyn SA seamers are not that good in odi. We should play to our strength.

  • Ryan on October 31, 2013, 3:02 GMT

    Cape Town is the place where visiting batsman dig their graves. Three teams in three years have been demolished by South Africa, being bowled out for under 50.

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