Netherlands have their own points to prove against the “big boys”, with the ODI Super League being scrapped going forward
Though the civil unrest was short lived, South Africa remains far from stable with rolling blackouts at their worst in 2021 and the economy in freefall, and cricket has not escaped the crunch. Money is still tight at Cricket South Africa and that’s not the only shadow hanging over the administration.
But out of all that, South Africa have emerged, finally, with clarity on their anti-racism gesture. Less than 48 hours before the first international delivery of the summer is bowled, CSA released a statement confirming that the team will take a knee throughout the season. “The Proteas should continue to take the knee as a contribution towards the global sports endeavour to demonstrate its commitment to eradicating racism and all forms of discrimination,” CSA said.
Lined up are ODI series against Netherlands, India and Bangladesh – which will collectively go a long way to determining their chances of automatic qualification for the 2023 World Cup – and Tests against India, New Zealand and Bangladesh. The T20 format takes a backseat, with only four fixtures against India but, all in all, it’s a full schedule that could prove crucial for Boucher’s longevity as head coach and several players’ careers.
And then there’s the added niggle. Expats have historically been fan favourites for some actual banter (not the kind that has been talked about in the English circuit over the last few weeks) and for the first time since the pandemic began, there will be a cricket crowd in a South African stadium. Current government regulations allow for a maximum of 2,000 fully vaccinated spectators at sports events but Cricket South Africa has petitioned for this to increase to 10% of stadium capacity. ESPNcricinfo understands that this request will be granted but that it needs to be published in the national gazette and that may only happen in time for the Test series against India. So it may be a small crowd for this series, but certainly a vocal one, albeit sans minors. Children under 12, to whom the Covid-19 vaccine is not yet available in South Africa, will not be allowed to attend matches and there’s another hard sell: no alcohol is allowed to be sold at sporting venues.
The absence of a party atmosphere will not take away from this series, marking the start of the festive season in some way. Pandemic-weary South Africans are looking forward to a more “normal” December-January after last year’s holiday lockdown, and having international cricket will be one way of enjoying summer. Despite six regulars – big names like captain Temba Bavuma, de Kock, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje – being given a break from the biobubble for these matches, there are enough eye-catchers to keep people interested. Janneman Malan, David Miller, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj have all put in standout performances over the past year and more will be expected this summer. And if the start of it, a three-match ODI series against Netherlands, doesn’t seem like an enticing match-up for you, just think back to July and that match against Ireland.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent