South Africa will give their players a choice of whether to go to the upcoming IPL or stay in the country and play the three-ODI and two-Test series against Bangladesh, which starts on March 18.
The ODIs will take place on March 18, 20 and 23 while the Tests start on March 31 and end on April 12. The IPL starts on March 26 and will run until May 29 with players set to serve a mandatory three-day quarantine
before entering the IPL bubble.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that they will be leaving it up to the players to make the decision which the Test captain Dean Elgar
called a litmus test of loyalty.
"The players need to give Cricket South Africa an indication of if they are keen to go to the IPL or if they are keen to play for the Test side. It's a bit of a tough one putting that in the players' box but this I guess, this is where you see where players' loyalty lies," Elgar said. "They mustn't forget that Test cricket or one-day cricket got them into the IPL and not the other way around."
There are 11 South African players contracted to this year's IPL including six Test regulars and three others who are part of the ODI squad. That includes the entire frontline pace pack - Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje and Marco Jansen - as well batters Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, allrounder Dwaine Pretorius and limited-overs wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.
On that list, Nortje has not played since the T20 World Cup in UAE last year as he battles a hip injury, while Ngidi missed the Tests against New Zealand with a back problem. There is no update on either of their availability but both would be shoo-ins for the national side in red and white-ball formats. Should they, along with Rabada and Jansen, travel to the IPL, South Africa will only have Lutho Sipamla, Wiaan Mulder and Glenton Stuurman as bowlers who have played Tests recently and the prospect of being without his best bowlers is a concern for Elgar.
"I wish I knew more for my own personal sanity and that I could prepare, knowing that most of my bowlers are potentially not going to be there if they choose to go the IPL route," Elgar said. "If I don't have everyone at my disposal then it's a little bit difficult. It's a bit of a tough one for me. I can't take the field without my best side. I need my best side there. If they are not available, it's something for us to sit down and get through."
"You don't want players to miss out on a big occasion like the IPL. But I'd still like to think playing for your country is bigger than that."
Dean Elgar, SA Test captain
Elgar will take it upon himself to have conversations with his players in the hope of convincing them to stay in South Africa, and perhaps, join the IPL at a later date. "I can just make them aware of their position within our set-up. They all play a big role. It's up to me to go up to each individual and point out to them that they mustn't forget where they've come from as players and where we've come from as a group," he said.
"The next few days might be busy and interesting for me. I owe it to our group to give them the best chance to make a decision. If it means I need to make them aware of their positions in the side, then I have to do that. Because for me, it's about the bigger picture. It's about us playing as much Test cricket as possible. We're already playing so little Test cricket. We can't not have our best players around when the team is called upon to go out and perform."
Despite his understandable bias towards keeping players in the country, Elgar understood that the schedule has been cluttered than usual because of countries trying to make up matches lost during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic and tours have got longer to accommodate periods of isolation. "We missed out on two weeks of cricket traveling to New Zealand and spending time in the MIQ. It's been a headache for the FTP," Elgar said. "Players are losing out on time because they have to respect their rules and regulations of countries. You don't want players to miss out on a big occasion like the IPL, by no means. But I'd still like to think playing for your country is bigger than that."
Whether all South Africa's players feel the same way will be seen in the next few weeks. CSA opted to leave the decision in players' hands for the first time, "because we don't want to force anything on them," acting CEO Pholetsi Moseki said.
Last year, CSA released players to the IPL midway through a limited-overs series against Pakistan in which the IPL-contracted players featured in the first two (of three) ODIs but left before the decider and missed the T20Is. That ODI series, like the upcoming one against Bangladesh, is part of the World Cup Super League and South Africa dropped points against Pakistan. They currently lie in 10th place in the points table and are out of the automatic qualifying zone for the 2023 World Cup and will be desperate to make up some ground. For that reason, they will hope the players stay.
At the same time, CSA is acutely aware of the necessity to maintain a good relationship with the BCCI, who toured South Africa this summer despite concerns over the Omicron variant and brought millions of rands to the coffers. For that reason, it may not be the worst thing for CSA if some players choose to fulfil their entire IPL commitment. Asked whether this will put a strain on the relationship between CSA and the BCCI, Moseki said, "That is something we will have to manage."
It can be noted that earlier in Januray, CSA decided not to issue NOCs
to any centrally contracted players for the Pakistan Super League. Graeme Smith, Cricket South Africa's Director of Cricket had told ESPNcricinfo that the board had opted to prioritise CSA domestic competitions.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent