CSA has taken a risk with an eye on "securing the long-term sustainability of the game" by forfeiting three ODIs in Australia, which form part of the direct-qualification pathway for the 50-over World Cup in India next year. The reason for the forfeiture is to launch its own T20 franchise league, but there is acknowledgement that not qualifying for the World Cup will be "a disaster".
"The players are disappointed that the ODIs in Australia will not happen but they understood the reasons," Pholetsi Moseki, CSA's chief executive, told ESPNcricinfo. "A lot of people are investing a lot of money in the T20 league, and we have to give it the best chance of success."
Moseki spoke to head coach Mark Boucher and white-ball captain Temba Bavuma first, and also had a 45-minute meeting with the entire squad, including Test captain Dean Elgar. "They were not exactly happy but they understood the long-term importance of the decision," Moseki said.
South Africa are currently 11th in the World Cup Super League points table and have eight matches left to play. These are against India [three, away] and Netherlands [two, at home - the first game of the series was washed out, and the remaining games were postponed because of Covid-19]. South Africa's upcoming ODIs in England are not part of the Super League, though the ones in South Africa in February 2023 are. After opting out of the Australia fixtures, they face the possibility of a qualifying campaign in Zimbabwe in June-July next year.
"We still want bilateral cricket to be supreme but the reality for countries like us is that you only make money when you play India. In the pre-Covid year, in 2019, we hosted England and Australia and we still made a loss. So we have to look at other options"
In the meeting, it was explained to the players that CSA has identified setting up the T20 league as a "top priority", according to Lawson Naidoo, CSA's board chair. And that the tournament, which aims to be the second-biggest in the world after the IPL, needs everyone's buy-in when it launches in January 2023. "We need all our top players available to satisfy team owners and guarantee the integrity of the league," Naidoo told ESPNcricinfo.
Naidoo further said CSA had presented Cricket Australia with "various options" to play the matches at a different time.
"Given our situation on the points table, we knew it would be a tough ask to qualify," Naidoo said. "We would have liked the opportunity to automatically qualify but if we have to go to the qualifiers, that's what we have to do. The players know what's at stake. A World Cup is the pinnacle of a career."
World Cup participation is also financially lucrative and missing out on the tournament is not a scenario CSA wants to contemplate. "That will be a disaster," Moseki said. "We are backing ourselves in qualification."
Effectively, that increases the pressure on South Africa's players to ensure they do not miss out on the 2023 World Cup, but the South African Cricketers' Association (SACA) said it sympathised with CSA's position and hoped this would shine a light on broader issues in the game. "We recognise the predicament CSA finds themselves in. The situation is not ideal. This should highlight the crisis facing world cricket at the moment as more leagues emerge," Andrew Breetzke, SACA's CEO told ESPNcricinfo.
South Africa are set to play India, Australia, England and Pakistan in Tests at home in the next cycle•AFP/Getty Images
This is South Africa's third attempt to launch a franchise T20 league. The Global League T20 failed to get off the ground in 2017, and the Mzansi Super League was unable to secure big broadcast rights in 2018 and 2019, and was effectively given to the public broadcaster at no cost. This time, CSA has partnered with cable television broadcaster SuperSport, which will own 30% of the league, and the process of finalising team owners is ongoing.
"The deadline for bids for teams is today [July 13]," Naidoo said. "We have appointed Deloitte [the auditing firm] to run an independent selection process and we hope to announce the six teams by the end of the month."
The league is expected to fundamentally change the landscape of South African cricket, which, from next year, will see no international cricket played after the New Year's Test in January. Australia will follow the same model to accommodate the BBL. The UAE's T20 league will be played at the same time. Those tournaments are followed by the PSL in February-March, then the IPL, the Hundred and the CPL, all of which will complicate FTP discussions at the ICC's annual general meeting later this month.
South Africa are set to play India, Australia, England and Pakistan in Tests at home in the next cycle but discussions on the number and format of white-ball matches are ongoing.
"Everyone is trying to get a window for their league and we are finding we have to squeeze bilateral cricket in," Moseki said. "We still want bilateral cricket to be supreme but the reality for countries like us is that you only make money when you play India. In the pre-Covid year, in 2019, we hosted England and Australia and we still make a loss. So we have to look at other options."