'No justification' for England to abandon South Africa tour, CSA says

Positive Covid-19 tests among staff in the teams' hotel caused the first ODI to be abandoned again Getty Images

Judge Zak Yacoob, the chair of CSA's interim board, has suggested that there was "no justification" for England to abandon their tour of South Africa and defending the efficacy of the Covid protocols imposed by the board.

Speaking in a virtual press conference on Thursday, Judge Yacoob said that he was "95% certain" that Sri Lanka would be arriving in South Africa next week ahead of their Test series, which starts December 26, and suggested that the 'Big Three' boards - the BCCI, Cricket Australia and the ECB - act as "laws unto themselves".

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"What I want to negate is an idea that our provision of services was substandard and that there is any justification for the English saying they did not want to participate and go home," Judge Yacoob said. "The facts are that ultimately, they were negative. We have gone into or protocols and we think that our protocols have been very good.

"There may have been an issue of psychological troubles. People may have felt nervous about false positives. Our position is that we do not wish to blame the English, but we wish to say absolutely and completely that any notion that they went away because it was in any way our fault, is completely wrong.

"The only criticism I can make, and I am not even authorised to make it, is that we were too lax with the English and their desire to do things which in our strict view they shouldn't be doing." Judge Zak Yacoob

"There is an awkward narrative coming out that third world countries can't manage these things properly. I can say we have been managing the virus much better than England. There was some attempt to ensure that in relation with what happened with England, Sri Lanka should not come here. They are coming next week, I hope."

When the tour was called off, Kugandrie Govender, the acting chief executive of CSA, and Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, issued a joint statement saying that they had made the decision "to ensure the mental and physical health and welfare of players from both teams".

The two 'unconfirmed positive' cases in the England touring party were confirmed as false positives after independent ratification on Tuesday, a day after the ODI series had been postponed, and less than 48 hours before England's charter flight back to the UK.

ALSO READ: England blame 'unacceptable' facilities after claims of protocols breach

Judge Yacoob also suggested that the protocols CSA imposed on England's touring party were not sufficiently stringent. Reports in local media have highlighted the fact England were permitted to play golf away from the Vineyard Hotel, while ESPNcricinfo revealed that the ECB had been warned by Western Province officials about a potential breach of arrangements with a nets session on the eve of the postponed first ODI.

"Many aspects of the operational side are not working and I don't want to go into details of that because then those in charge of the operational side will start running to the newspapers to say how bad the board is," he said.

"The only criticism I can make, and I am not even authorised to make it, is that we were too lax with the English and their desire to do things which in our strict view they shouldn't be doing. We were stronger on preventing our players from doing things and we allowed the visitors a little more laxity. There's a courtesy thing, because they are visitors and so on."

England's withdrawal could impact on the rest of the South African summer and has raised concerns from Sri Lanka and Australia, who are due to tour next. Despite that, Judge Yacoob did not expect ECB to clear South Africa's name, saying the board will do that for themselves. "I don't think we want an apology from anyone but if they say lies about us, we will defend ourselves," he said. "I am prepared to leave it on the basis that we do understand the sensitivities of the matter. We have got this virus for the first time and therefore people can be put off."

Sri Lanka have already asked for stricter protocols than England had and Judge Yacoob said that he was "95% certain" the tour would go ahead. "If I had any trouble at all, I would have told would have said to Sri Lanka they must not come," he said.

CSA an SLC's medical teams met earlier this week to finalise tour logistics and, as things stand, Sri Lanka are due to depart for South Africa next week. They will play Test matches over the Boxing Day and New Year period and will return home to host England eight days later. The close proximity of the two series means that Sri Lanka cannot risk their players returning home unwell. A final decision on that tour is expected imminently.

As for the marquee series of the summer against Australia, scheduled for February-March 2021, ESPNcricinfo revealed a contingency plan to move the series to Perth following England's withdrawal and Judge Yacoob indicated Australia may yet decide not to visit South Africa. "[On] Australia, I have no information, but my understanding of the cricket politics is that the three most powerful nations in cricket - Australia and England are two of them, and I think you know who the third one is - want to do things their way and want to ensure the less powerful nations play ball with them," he said.

"Politically, it depends on what Australia thinks is in its political interests, depending on what has happened with England. I don't know what Australia will do. The powerful people, and Australia is a powerhouse in cricket, are usually laws unto themselves.

South Africa's director of cricket Graeme Smith confirmed that talks with Australia will begin next week. "We are only having our first operational planning meeting with Cricket Australia next week. There has been only engagement up to this point," Smith said.

Last month Smith told the Australian papers that he was hopeful that South Africa would be able to let fans back into stadiums by the time their tour happened. Currently, all sport must take place behind closed doors as South Africa remains in lockdown, albeit at the lowest level. That may change in the coming weeks with the country officially into a second wave of the pandemic, as of yesterday.

South Africa has recorded over 800,000 cases of coronavirus and over 22,500 deaths and is the 18th worst affected country worldwide, according to government data. By comparison, the United Kingdom, which is seventh, has over 1.7 million cases and more than 62.500 deaths. Australia has managed the pandemic better than both those countries with just 28,000 cases and 908 deaths.