Cricket news - South Africa hopeful of India's visit for a T20I series in August

Will Virat Kohli & Co. travel to South Africa for a quick three-match series?

Will Virat Kohli & Co. travel to South Africa for a quick three-match series?

South Africa are hopeful that India will tour near the end of August to mark the resumption of cricket in the country in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. The plan is for the teams to contest three T20Is behind closed doors, possibly in a sanitised accommodation, training and playing bio-bubble. Perhaps not coincidentally, it seems Sourav Ganguly can count on South Africa's backing should he consider a bid for the ICC presidency.

"We had a teleconference with India [on Wednesday] and we're encouraged by their willingness to honour the agreement to play the three T20s in August, and if that's postponed, maybe a bit later," Jacques Faul, Cricket South Africa's (CSA) acting chief executive, told an online press conference on Thursday. "That's very encouraging. We had a very good discussion with them."

The conversation started in pre-lockdown February, when Faul and CSA's director of cricket, Graeme Smith, travelled to India to meet with BCCI officials including Ganguly, the president. Smith and Ganguly played against each other for South Africa and India in eight Tests and five ODIs from September 2002 to April 2008. At 47 Ganguly is only eight years older than Smith. He played his last match for India in November 2008, less than six years before Smith retired. It seems a healthy respect exists between them.

Certainly, Smith didn't shy away from going to bat for Ganguly with all the unsubtle effectiveness he would use to ruin bowlers' figures during his playing career: "Leadership in our sport is going to be key, and having someone at a level who understands the modern game, understands the challenges that are going to be faced, emphasises more the people who get put into key positions. I think the president of the ICC becomes a key position. It would be great to see a cricket man like Sourav Ganguly get into the role of president of the ICC. That will be good for the game and good for the modern game. He understands it, he's played it as the highest level, he's respected, and his leadership will be key to us going forward. That would be a great appointment.

"Post Covid and the things that are going to come our way, to have strong leadership [will be important]. Someone like Sourav Ganguly is best positioned for that. I know him well. I've played against him and I've worked with him as an administrator and in television. He's got the credibility and the leadership skills, and is someone who could really take the game forward. More than anything, that's needed right now at an ICC level. We know the elections are coming up and there's a few names in the hat but my own opinion is that it's time someone closer to the modern game with leadership credentials got into a key position."

Faul followed that lead: "We've always worked closely with India, and I think India must play a leadership role when it comes to the FTP and a responsible one. Our engagement with Sourav has been very positive. I haven't played a lot of cricket against Sourav, so I don't know him as well as Graeme. This is Graeme's style - he comes out and he speaks openly, which is great. Even in administration, he comes out and farms the bowling. We've checked with the leadership [of CSA], if we would support an Indian candidate [for ICC] president, and at this stage we would. We don't see any problems with supporting an Indian candidate, but we've got to look at who's nominated."

Later in the press conference, in answer to a question posed in Afrikaans, Faul elaborated: "There aren't any candidates yet and there aren't any nominees, but India play a big leadership role anyway. I don't think any one country should control cricket; the countries that are strong can help other countries. There's going to be speculation about who a suitable leader would be. It's not as if there's only one person who could do it. But it's good to hear someone like Graeme Smith is of the opinion that someone like Sourav Ganguly could play this leadership role.

"We have to agree with Graeme that someone like Sourav would be a strong candidate. We can't commit ourselves to that. We don't even know if Sourav is available to do it. That's Graeme's opinion, and we respect it and agree that he could play a big role in world cricket. But we've seen what Graeme has done for us in several aspects. He has the respect of role players, including the media, players, officials and administrators. Considering the big contribution Graeme has made, I agree with him that someone like Sourav, if he is interested in a leadership position like this, could make an impact."

Friday marks the end of the South Africa's seventh week in lockdown, and although the level of the restrictions look set to eased, no end to the measures is in sight. Whether regulations will have eased enough to enable India to tour in August cannot be known. But CSA have to plan as if that will happen as a precursor to staging half a season from January, starting with the Mzansi Super League. "We're looking at a return to play, a return to train, and a return to work," Faul said. "The scenarios we use are three months, six months and nine months. We're too scared to go beyond that for planning purposes. There's still a low level of predictability.

"We're in the process of seeking an audience with the minister of arts, sport and culture to get permission, if needed, to play behind closed doors. This will relate to the possibility of the India incoming tour. We're trying to be very innovative."

Adminstrators Sourav Ganguly & Graeme Smith know each other well from their playing days

CSA have to pull out all the stops to generate revenue, what with the South African Cricketers' Association expecting them to lose USD 55.9-million by the end of the 2022 rights cycle - a scenario sketched before the pandemic, and that can only worsen given current conditions. A tour by India would put a dent in the losses but it won't be easy to pull off.

"The commitment is still there to get the three T20s done," Smith said. "The goal is to keep in constant communication to see where both countries are sitting from a virus and a government regulation [perspective]. There is an element of guesswork. No one understands what things are going to be like come the end of August. We believe we're a socially safe and socially distant sport, and we believe we can get it done behind closed doors. We hope the world is in a better place come August."

India's entire touring party would, on arrival, have to spend 14 days in isolation and another 14 days in strict seclusion before they depart. CSA's chief medical officer, Shuaib Manjra, said it was likely they would remain in a "biobubble", a "...sanitised cricket biosphere with strict entry standards and limited movement out..." for the duration of their visit.

But little was certain, as Manjra explained: "We probably will see peak infection in August and September, and we will probably see different peaks in different parts of the country. Nothing can be cast in stone. We'll take our directive from government.

"Even if there is a biobubble, is there going to be international travel? I can't see large-scale international travel coming back for the next three months, so that would be a limiting factor. Unless you get a charter flight, get them to land at a safe airport and take them straight into the biobubble."

Manjra also had his scientific eye on the wider realities facing the game: "We've got to consider that our players have all had a two-month lay-off. They haven't played cricket, they haven't been able to train at maximum capacity. Consequently the risk of injury is significantly increased if they come back to cricket too early.

"What is the impact of intense physical activity on individual players infected by Covid-19 when they return to play?

"What happens should a player develop Covid-19? I have no doubt that many of our players will develop the infection. The challenge for us is when are they safe to return to play, and what are the risks when they return? The more intriguing and challenging question is what is the risk for asymptomatic positives, [people] who have no symptoms but are Covid-19 positive? The risk to them would be significant and we need to determine how we're going to identify and manage them."

Smith's focus was necessarily different, but no less stark: "All cards are on the table and we're exploring all options. Sport has had to think like business, not just an events company. We've got to look at many aspects of our game and how we make it work. Neutral venues, coming together with other nations, looking at what the best opportunities to get our cricket done. Our goal is to get cricket up and running as quickly as possible."

Also as safely as possible, of course. For all concerned. And the next time Smith is able to go to India he might find he has been granted the freedom of Kolkata.