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Australia's tour of South Africa may move to Perth amid Covid-19 fallout

The early end to the England tour could have a major ripple effect for other series

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
A general view of the WACA  •  Getty Images

A general view of the WACA  •  Getty Images

Australia's scheduled Test series in South Africa next year may move to Perth, with early discussions between the two boards already taking place in the wake of the cancellation of the remainder of England's current tour due to issues around Covid-19.
According to the schedule for the World Test Championship, Tim Paine's Test side are meant to be facing South Africa in three Tests in South Africa between February 14 and March 13, a key assignment leading up to the tournament final in England in mid-2021, but the problems unveiled by England's visit have made the trip increasingly problematic.
The fate of Australia's visit is one part of what is becoming a complex challenge for Cricket South Africa with uncertainty now also hanging over Sri Lanka's visit later this month for two Tests.
While neutral venues such as the UAE have been used in recent times, ESPNcricinfo understands there have been talks between CSA and Cricket Australia around playing the series in Australia, given that conditions in the two countries are famously similar in terms of pace and bounce in particular.
Equally, Perth's western time zone makes it quite amenable to South Africa's given their separation only by the Indian Ocean - a day/night Test at the WACA Ground, for instance, would be likely to start play between 8am and 9am in South Africa.
The tour would need to take place on the basis that the broadcast rights and consequent revenue would go to CSA and its partners, meaning it would be broadcast in Australia by Fox Cricket. CSA is under massive pressure to maintain some semblance of its summer schedule and thus hang onto the broadcast rights fees that keep the game afloat.
Cricket Australia pulled together a detailed biosecurity plan for Perth and Western Australia earlier this year when it had planned to host a portion of the international season in the west, before the blueprint was ended by WA's hard border. The situation has eased in recent weeks as WA's premier Mark McGowan has opened the state's borders to the rest of the nation, with BBL matches set down for Perth Stadium next month.
Unless the series is moved, Perth will spend a season without international cricket for the first time since the 1970s, after the postponement of the scheduled Test against Afghanistan.
"We've been a little bit bemused and disappointed how we haven't been scheduled for one of the prime series in the cricket calendar," the WACA chief executive Christina Matthews said in May when the original summer schedule was announced. "The government invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to make Perth Stadium cricket friendly from the start, so all the facilities for cricket were built into that, and at the time Cricket Australia gave a guarantee to the government that they would absolutely be utilising that stadium to its fullest.
"Also, we have over 10,000 members, who year after year invest in cricket. Rusted on fans are here, the crowds are better, the facilities are better, the corporate hospitality has more flexibility and more potential. So to us, it doesn't quite pass the pub test."
The new multipurpose stadium will likely be commandeered by the AFL's demands by the time the South Africa tour is due to take place, but the WACA Ground will remain in prime position to host Test matches if required.
South Africa boast an enviable record on tours to Australia, having won series down under in 2008-09, 2012-13 and 2016-17, with the same case working the other way during Australian wins in South Africa in 1997, 2002, 2006, 2009 and 2014.
Though South Africa were victorious over the Australians in the acrimonious "Sandpapergate" series in 2018, the touring team made a peaceful return for a brief white-ball visit earlier this year in their final overseas assignment before the onset of Covid-19.
Cricket South Africa has been contacted for comment.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig