Australia got its facts wrong when it made a “unilateral” decision to cancel a cricket tour to South Africa because of COVID-19, the acting head of the South African board said on Friday.
Stavros Nicolaou said Cricket South Africa was left “puzzled” by Cricket Australia's decision two weeks ago to not travel for a three-test series next month. At the time, the Australians said South Africa was at the “peak” of a second wave of coronavirus infections and had a “more virulent strain” of the virus.
Both points were incorrect, Cricket South Africa interim board chairman Nicolaou said on a conference call with reporters.
“We were very confused with that statement and we are still unpacking that statement with our Australian counterparts,” Nicolaou said. “We definitely don't agree.”
Although South Africa's second wave of virus infections peaked in January, it had subsided significantly by the time Australia announced it was canceling on Feb. 2, Nicolaou said. He said Australia didn't give South Africa a chance to clarify the local situation before taking “a unilateral decision.”
His analysis was backed up by the fact that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the relaxation of some lockdown restrictions a day earlier on Feb. 1 due to a major decrease in new COVID-19 cases in the country. New cases have continued decreasing since and the Australians were not due to fly in until the end of this month.
There is also no evidence that the variant first identified in South Africa in December causes more serious disease, according to health experts, although it might be more contagious. Nicolaou said Australia was suggesting the variant was more harmful.
"We don’t agree there’s a more virulent strain (in South Africa). More contagious, not more virulent,” Nicolaou said.
South Africa has publicly stated how bitterly disappointed it was at Australia's decision, which came even after South Africa agreed to put in place much more extensive bio-bubble preparations for the Australian squad to meet their demands.
That involved giving Australia exclusive access to the hotel that both teams were originally planning to share for the series, and forcing hotel staff to quarantine for a much longer time before the Australians arrived in South Africa, according to South African media reports. The extra plans came at a high cost to Cricket South Africa.
Some of Nicolaou's comments Friday also reflected a current sentiment in international cricket that the sport's three richest nations — India, England and Australia — might be taking advantage of fears over the pandemic to avoid tours to lower-profile countries. That frees them up for money-spinning series among themselves.
South Africa is still disgruntled over England's decision to cut short a limited-overs tour of the country in December after hotel workers tested positive for the coronavirus in the tour bio-bubble and England raised the alarm that two of its touring members had been infected. Those two English positives turned out to be false positives, but England still left halfway through the tour.
Despite raising fears over COVID then, England has since embarked on a big-ticket test tour of India, which has more than 10 million confirmed coronavirus cases, the second-highest in the world behind the United States.
“One needs to assess these cancelations and postponements,” Nicolaou said. "What it means to the smaller nations, the poorer nations, or those with less resources. And I think there is a recalibration that needs to take place in cricket in that respect.”
Nicolaou said South Africa had submitted a formal complaint to the International Cricket Council over Australia's cancelation, although it's unclear what the governing body can do when a country cites player safety for its decision.