Gauteng have called into question the spirit of cricket by choosing to field a second-string side for their first-class SuperSport Series game against Easterns, while sending their first team off to Potchefstroom to prepare for the forthcoming Pro20 series. It is a major snub, not only to the opposition and South Africa's United Cricket Board, but also to their own fans and sponsors.

The decision also has serious ramifications for the Shield table. At the start of the match, Easterns had an almost unassailable lead at the top of the table, while Gauteng were cut adrift at the bottom. The decision to field such a weak side, with four players making their first-class debuts, has effectively wrecked any hopes second-placed Boland might have had of taking the title.

"It is not an ideal situation," said a UCB spokesman. "We are not happy with it, but there is nothing in the laws or rules that says we can tell them who to pick."

But Ray Jennings, Easterns' coach, was less conciliatory. "To what depth have the values and principles of the game fallen?" he asked. "In my long career I have never seen something like this happen. A team placing practice ahead of a committed first-class fixture just does not make any sense."

Gauteng's coach, Jimmy Cook, was initially opposed to the move as well, but with the new franchise system coming into effect from April 1, he discovered his hands were tied, and says the team playing at Benoni is "the best available". The senior players are already contracted to the newly created Highveld Strikers team - a ludicrous situation, given that the current South African first-class season hasn't ended yet.

If Gauteng had been in the running for the SuperSport Shield, one suspects an alternative solution might have been found.