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Australia pulls out of 3-test cricket tour of South Africa

February 2, 2021 GMT
Australia's Tim Paine carries a helmet during play on day two of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)
Australia's Tim Paine carries a helmet during play on day two of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Cricket Australia has pulled out of a three-test series in South Africa next month, citing an “unacceptable risk” of sending players there during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interim chief executive Nick Hockley issued a statement late Tuesday saying he believed there was no choice but to postpone the tour and he had informed his South African counterparts.

“Due to the public health situation in South Africa, which includes a second wave and new variant of the virus, and following extensive due diligence with medical experts, it has become clear that traveling from Australia to South Africa poses an unacceptable level of health and safety risk to our players, support staff and the community,” Hockley said.

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“This decision has not been made lightly and we are extremely disappointed, especially given the importance of continuing international cricket at this time, our valued relationship with CSA, and our aspirations to compete in the inaugural ICC world test championship.”

Tim Paine’s Australia team just finished a 2-1 home series loss to India following a first defeat at the Gabba since 1988. South Africa is 1-0 down in Pakistan with the second and final test starting on Thursday.

Hockley said the South African and Australian cricket boards weren’t able to finalize a bio-security plan for the series that was scheduled for March.

It’s a setback for coach Justin Langer and test captain Paine, who were appointed in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in 2018 that resulted in 12-month bans for then captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner.

“As difficult and disappointing a decision as this is, especially for Justin, Tim and the team, we have a duty of care to our people and their health and safety can’t be compromised,” Hockley said. “We look forward to playing the series at a date to be confirmed.”

Missing the series means Australia has no control over its prospects of qualifying for the inaugural world test championship in July.

The ICC said in a statement that the South Africa-Australia postponement means New Zealand has become the first team to qualify for the inaugural test championship final to be held in England from June 18 to 22, with June 23 as the reserve day.

It said New Zealand is ranked second on the ICC WTC table with a 70% points total. They will be joined by either India, England, or Australia with the second spot being determined by the outcome of the India vs. England four-match test series due to start on Friday.

Australia selected two squads because of a schedule clash that involved a tour to New Zealand for five Twenty20s and the test series in South Africa.

It’s unlikely any of the test players will be redeployed for the T20 series, with Cricket Australia saying when the separate squads were announced that there wouldn’t be changes in personnel even if the South Africa series was scrapped.

South Africa also had to deal with a cancellation in early December when England withdrew from the ODI portion of its tour after a virus outbreak at the supposedly bio-secure Cape Town hotel where both teams were staying. Both squads had members infected, along with two hotel workers.

South Africa later hosted and won a two-test series against Sri Lanka which ended on Jan. 5 in Johannesburg.

Cricket South Africa’s director of cricket Graeme Smith criticized the Australian decision, saying its concerns were unfounded.

“We are extremely disappointed by the decision of CA,” Smith said in a statement. “CSA has been working tirelessly in recent weeks to ensure that we meet every single expectation of CA. So to be informed about the CA decision at the eleventh hour is frustrating.”

South Africa has recorded more than 1.46 million coronavirus cases and more than 44,000 deaths.

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