The Proteas were knocked down a rung or two by Pakistan in the recent ODI series, but that was clearly the opening act in what promises to be a thrilling summer of cricket in the Republic.
Two of South Africa’s fiercest cricketing rivals – India and Australia – will be intent on bumping the Proteas off their perch at the top of the ICC Test rankings, making for a fascinating few months of cricketing fare for the knowledgeable and passionate home support.
"Two of South Africa’s fiercest cricketing rivals will be intent on bumping the Proteas off their perch"
With the calibre of the teams on offer this summer it’s disappointing that the cricketing administrators have let their egos and agendas tarnish the 2013/14 season before it has even begun in earnest.
There will be no New Year’s Test at Newlands this year and a barren January calendar will certainly be tough for the South African public to swallow. Plans for a ‘Festival of Cricket’ at Newlands over the popular January holiday slot are at an advanced stage and this will go some way to easing the Capetonian cricketing public. The Springboks, a T20 triple-header and a North vs South match are all being considered to make up for the loss of the New Year’s Test.
The boardroom wranglings can’t, however, overshadow the sheer quality of cricket on offer. The Proteas will be the first side to face India post-Sachin Tendulkar and it will be interesting to see how they handle the loss of the ‘Little Master’. The Indians have limited time to adapt to conditions and they need to hit the ground running if they are to overcome the fast, bouncy South African pitches and get up in the Protea’s faces.
Tendulkar isn’t the only high-profile omission from the tour. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir didn’t make the touring party and that means plenty of new faces will be on display during December. With the strength and depth available in India it’s an exciting tour in terms of the balance of power in international cricket.
It’s not all new faces, however, with Zaheer Khan brought back despite his age and lack of recent games, in the hope he’ll continue his dominance of South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith.
The Indians are hoping that the three ODIs to start the tour will help them rapidly acclimatise to the conditions before the two-Test series. It’s a whistlestop tour, but there will be no shortage of fire between the sides – particularly with the South African public feeling they’ve been short-changed by the Indians in the scheduling of the tour.
All the while that South Africa are battling it out with India during December, there will be one eye on the Ashes going on Down Under. Not only does it dish up some of the most dramatic cricketing action, but the result has direct consequences for the Proteas as they prepare to host Australia in February and March 2014.
Cricket South Africa is still holding out hope of filling the January calendar with some excitement, but if nothing comes of it, the hunger for cricket will be at record levels when Australia arrive in February for a three-Test and three T20 series.
If Australia can follow through on their red-hot start in the Ashes it will add even more spice to what is already a mouthwatering dish of rivalry, revenge and hard, uncompromising cricket.
Michael Clarke’s men, with the likes of David Warner and Mitchell Johnson in form, are an abrasive cricket team and sparks are guaranteed to fly when they collide with Graeme Smith’s charges filled with hard-nosed cricketers of our own.
The three Tests in Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town could end up being an unofficial battle for the tag of best team in the world – provided Australia win the Ashes, of course.
The three T20s to end off the tour will serve as the ideal preparation for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup which begins in Bangladesh at the end of March.
Visits from India and Australia, over a scorching South African summer, make for cricketing excitement and drama of the highest order. Now it’s just up to Cricket South Africa to get creative with that Festival of Cricket at Newlands early in the New Year...