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 says.
Stavros Nicolaou said on Friday that Cricket South Africa was left “puzzled” by Cricket Australia’s decision two weeks ago to not travel for a three-Test series next month.
He reiterated that South Africa had submitted a formal complaint to the International Cricket Council over Australia’s cancellation.
At the time of pulling out, 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 during 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 cancelling on February 2, Nicolaou said.
He added that Australia didn’t give South Africa a chance to clarify the local situation before taking “a unilateral decision.”
Local case numbers decreasing, restrictions easing
Nicolaou’s analysis was backed up by the fact that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the relaxation of some lockdown restrictions a day earlier on February 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 that 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.
“One needs to assess these cancellations 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.”