South Africa replace Boxing Day Test with T20
South Africa have replaced their traditional Boxing Day Test with a Twenty20 international for the 2012-13 home season, during which they will host New Zealand and Pakistan. The home summer will begin the week before Christmas, after South Africa's return from a Test series in Australia. New Zealand will play three Twenty20s, two Tests and three ODIs through January, after which Pakistan will tour for a full series in February and March.
Instead of a Test match starting on December 26, South Africa will play a Twenty20 against New Zealand in Port Elizabeth before reverting to tradition for the New Year's Test in Cape Town on January 2. "We considered three important factors when we made the decision and in the end we decided it would make more sense to do it this way in terms of this tour," Jacques Faul, CSA acting chief executive, told ESPNcricinfo. "We looked at the best interests of the national team, the fairness to the incoming team and the commercial aspect. I wouldn't say the decision was only a financial one. We still feel strongly about Test cricket but we decided that to do it this way would be best."
South Africa have hosted a Boxing Day Test every year since readmission in 1992, except on the five occasions they have been on tour in Australia. An agreement was subsequently reached with Australia to ensure South Africa does not play there over the Christmas period to ensure the national side is at home in peak season. Three times, the Boxing Day Test has been played in Port Elizabeth, when it was first held in 1992 and again in 1995 and 2007, and every other time Durban's Kingsmead Stadium has played host to the fixture.
Despite it being a match that is considered integral to the cricket season, South Africa's Boxing Day Test has had its problems. Crowds have declined steadily over the years, resulting in less advertising and an overall financial burden rather than gain. Durban, which is a popular holiday destination in South Africa, sees people choose to spend the day at the beach rather than the cricket and the fixture was moved to Port Elizabeth in 2007 in the hope of an improved attendance. St George's Park did not produce the desired crowds and resulted in a South African defeat to West Indies and the match was moved back to Durban in 2009. South Africa have also not won a Boxing Day Test at home since then.
At the end of last season, sources close to CSA mentioned that it would make better economic sense to host T20s over the holiday period. The theory has some substance as people had packed venues around the country for the domestic 20-over competition when it was it was held in January (still part of school holidays) when the national team were in Australia in early 2006 and 2009. However, the current fixtures, which see T20s played against New Zealand on December 21, 23 and 26 leaves out prime dates from the 27th to the 31st of December, during which New Zealand will play a tour match in Paarl.
ESPNcricinfo understands that South Africa's poor record in the Boxing Day match, when the team usually has their families accompanying them, also influenced the decision to do away with the match. Although the scrapping of the Boxing Day Test marks a massive break with convention, Faul stressed that this was not the end of the road for the traditional match. "We could definitely see a Boxing Day Test next season or in the future," he said.
As a result of the revised schedule, Durban has been left without a Test match for the entire season and will have to make do with two T20s - against New Zealand and Pakistan - and an ODI. Cape Town, which usually gets large crowds, will again host two Test matches, while Port Elizabeth gets its first Test since 2007. Johannesburg and Centurion have been given the remaining two Tests.
New Zealand's three T20s will be held in Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth and the three ODIs in Paarl, Kimberley and Potchefstroom. Pakistan's tour consists of three Tests and five ODIs at venues including Bloemfontein and Benoni. The addition of smaller venues to international schedule is in keeping with CSA's rotation policy and as a result of the attendance last season, when Sri Lanka's ODI series was played mainly at the lesser known grounds.
"East London and Paarl, who had been off the international roster for some time, attracted more than 25,000 spectators for the two ODIs that they hosted," Faul said. "These two provinces are very strong growth areas for the game, [and help] fulfil our mandate of making cricket a truly national sport."
South Africa toured New Zealand in February and March 2012, winning the three-Test series 1-0 and sweeping the ODIs 3-0. New Zealand registered their only win of the tour in the Twenty20s, but South Africa claimed that series as well, 2-1.
The previous bilateral series between Pakistan and South Africa was in 2010-11, in the UAE; the Tests were drawn 0-0, and South Africa won in both limited-overs formats.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent