India will start their tour of South Africa with the New Year's Test, which is likely to begin on January 5 or 6 in Cape Town. Both Cricket South Africa and the BCCI are on the verge of finalising the details in the coming days for the tour, which as per the ICC's Future Tours Programme included four Tests, three ODIs and three T20Is.
Both the boards have been holding discussions since the beginning of the year, but have not finalised the schedule yet. In August, the BCCI had made it clear to CSA that India would not arrive until the last week of 2017 as their home series against Sri Lanka ends on December 24. The BCCI wanted its players to take a short break before they departed for South Africa.
Traditionally, the New Years' Test has been played at Newlands from January 2. It is understood CSA was trying hard to convince the BCCI to play the first Test from January 4 to ensure maximum gate money, considering the match is usually a sellout during the holiday week in South Africa.
However, the BCCI reiterated that the Indian team would need preparation time ahead of the big series and would want to play at least one warm-up match. According to an official involved in the discussions, India are now expected to land in the last few days of December and would "definitely play one practice match before the first Test".
ESPNcricinfo also understands the main reason behind the delay was that the BCCI was not impressed with CSA finalising the schedule for the Australian series, which starts on March 1, with the India tour dates not finalised yet. "Now they (CSA) are trying to fit in everything within a short window," the official said.
CSA is battling on many fronts. Observers are already worried about them cramming the summer schedule with nine Tests including the Boxing Day match for which an opponent is yet to be confirmed. Tony Irish, the South Africa Cricketers' Association (SACA) head had pointed out in August that a "grueling schedule" was unhealthy and would "compound" the workload of the players.
The BCCI was also concerned about playing back-to-back matches and ideally wants a decent break in order to not overwork the Indian players and risk injury ahead of a busy schedule. Immediately after the South Africa tour, India would travel to Sri Lanka to play a Twenty20 tri-series and then return home to play the IPL.
Last week, Haroon Lorgat, CSA's chief executive officer, expressed his understanding of the situation and hoped to reach a conclusion soon. "It's a very difficult one. I've got some sympathy for the BCCI itself in trying to work out which dates. Of course, we are trying to have [the Test] as early as New Year start as possible," Lorgat said at the launch of T20 team Stellenbosch Kings last Wednesday. "They are looking at travel arrangements, dates, when they finish the last fixture. I wouldn't put our team on a flight the very next day after they complete a game. You need a day or two at home. So these are the logistics we are grappling with."
Lorgat's delicate tone may have a lot to do with the knowledge that India's last tour to South Africa, in the summer of 2013, was severely curtailed following issues between the two boards. India were originally scheduled to play four Tests, five ODIs and three T20s, and CSA had even announced fixtures, but the visitors only toured for two Tests and three ODIs, causing CSA to suffer a massive financial loss. The South African board also tabled a loss in their last financial year, as expected, given only Sri Lanka toured the country, and are relying on this summer's matches against India and Australia to bring in big money.
The India tour is also significant because it could see AB de Villiers make a return to Test cricket, after a hiatus since January 2016. De Villiers could also return earlier if CSA manages to organise a Boxing Day Test. It is understood CSA is considering hosting its first day-night Test in Port Elizabeth, where the stadium revamp will see new floodlights installed, but they are yet to line up an opponent.