Not only will India not feature in the Boxing Day Test against South Africa later this year, but even the New Year's Test in Newlands is in danger of being pushed back. The Boxing Day Test is usually the highlight of South Africa's international season while the iconic venue in Cape Town usually hosts the second Test of the South African summer from January 2.
However, it is understood that India will only land in South Africa in the last week of 2017 and will want to acclimatise for at least a week before starting the tour comprising four Tests, five ODIs and two Twenty20 internationals.
According to a BCCI official, India cannot reach South Africa for the Boxing Day Test which starts on December 26 only because their home series against Sri Lanka is scheduled to finish on December 24. "We can't make it make it in time. The Sri Lanka tour ends on December 24. After that we need to give the boys a few days' rest," the board official told ESPNcricinfo. "The South Africa tour is a big one, so they need to play two warm-up games, so it will take at least 10 days [before the first Test].
The BCCI has already alerted Cricket South Africa on the scheduling difficulties, which both boards expect to sort out by next week. ESPNcricinfo understands CSA has accepted the fact that India will miss the Boxing Day Test, and, hence, have started looking for other options to stage a one-off Test. Pakistan and Afghanistan are reportedly the two possible options, but nothing concrete has emerged yet on that front.
Tony Irish, the head of the South African Players Association, said that if the Newlands Test failed to start on January 2 or 3, it would be a "major blow" for CSA only because the match coincides with the holiday season. "I had been aware of the fact that they were unlikely to be there for Boxing Day, but for them not to be here for the New Year's Day is a major blow to CSA and the fans," Irish said. "To lose Boxing Day is a big thing, but to lose both of them would be massive hit for the fans."
Irish felt India could play a solitary two- or three-day game ahead of the first Test to facilitate things. But the BCCI official said that the Indian players could not be pushed.
There are other repercussions of the India tour starting late. As soon India depart, South Africa are scheduled to host Australia for a four-Test series before the players arrived in India for the IPL. If CSA do manage to find an opponent for the Boxing Day Test, that would mean nine Tests crammed inside a two-month period.
Irish felt such an "extremely gruelling" Test schedule combined with the limited-overs matches against India would exacerbate the workload on players. "If the India Test matches start much after January 2 or 3, there will be a lot of concern about the players' workload," Irish said. "You really compound the workload issue." Irish has raised this concern with CSA, which has noted it.