South Africa v Australia cut to two Tests

South Africa's home Test series against Australia will be played over just two matches

ESPNcricinfo staff
Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting with the ICC Test Championship mace, Johannesburg, February 24, 2009

Australia and South Africa have traditionally always faced off in three-Test series, but things are set to change now  •  Getty Images

South Africa's home Test series against Australia will be played over just two matches - as opposed to the customary three of recent times - with a packed international cricket calendar being offered as the reason. The truncated schedule will be formally announced on Friday by officials of the two boards and from Sri Lanka, who are also involved in series against both countries.
"Because of the fixture list, we have to have two Tests this time but the next time Australia tour South Africa they will play four Tests here, because they will owe us one," Gerald Majola, CEO of Cricket South Africa, told ESPNcricinfo.
South Africa and Australia have played three-Test series in every encounter between the two countries since South Africa's re-admission to international cricket in 1992, often as back-to-back home and away series.
The removal of one Test from the traditional program is confirmed in the ICC's Future Tours Program, which states South Africa "host Australia, two Tests, two T20s, three ODIs". ODIs and T20 have commonly been used as a tour revenue counter-balance for the fluctuating crowds commonly witnessed at Tests in the rainbow nation.
The two-Test series is scheduled for October, which could overlap with, or run very close to, the Champions League Twenty20, in which Australia and South Africa are financial partners with India.
However, officials say that is not seen as a significant factor in the Tests being pruned. Tony Irish, chief executive of the South African Cricketers' Association, pointed to the amount of cricket to be played in that time, with South Africa hosting Australia and Sri Lanka, an ODI series against West Indies and a tour of New Zealand.
"October to February is an extremely heavy period of scheduling," Irish said. "The Champions League Twenty20 was not a point of discussion from our point of view."
Paul Marsh, the Australian Cricketers Association CEO, took a slightly differing view, saying the problems of a schedule swollen by non-FTP events and series, including the Champions League, had not helped.
"It's not ideal," Marsh said. "There is too much in the schedule, and decisions like these are due to the amount of non-FTP cricket being played, including the Champions League and the Indian Premier League."
The next FTP, which is still to be finalised despite coming into effect in less than a year, is far from guaranteed to offer an improved or more equitable schedule, as national boards weigh their own self-interest against the demands of the ICC's world Test and ODI championships.
The Champions League did play a role in Australia's Test cricket last year, when the key duo of Michael Hussey and Doug Bollinger gave up their preparation for a Test series in India by staying on at the Champions League in South Africa with their IPL team, the Chennai Super Kings. Having arrived a mere two days before the first Test at Mohali, in vastly different conditions, neither man could contribute strongly to Australia's cause.
Bollinger suffered a side strain on the final day as Australia pressed for victory, and his absence was keenly felt as India wriggled free to win by one wicket. He subsequently struggled with his fitness across the home summer, and made nowhere near the Ashes impact he could rightly have been expected to.