Cricket Australia’s biosecurity boffins now hold the key to Tim Paine’s hopes of contesting the world Test championship final, a goal he has targeted throughout the majority of his stint as skipper.
Australia’s 2-1 series loss to India resulted in them surrendering top spot on the Test championship table, which will determine who contests the final that is set to be held later this year in England.
The championship concept, designed to create additional interest in the longest format, was created shortly after the Cape Town cheating scandal.
Paine described it as a “fantastic initiative” at the time, while he has repeatedly referenced the final as a long-term goal since the current cycle began in 2019.
The wicketkeeper pointed to the final as “unfinished business” when speaking about his desire to keep leading Australia after India’s record-breaking chase at the Gabba.
But India’s shock triumph means the passage of Paine’s team is anything but assured.
Australia must record a 3-0 or 2-0 series win against South Africa to guarantee they will be part of the final.
But a 2-1 victory – or a cancelled tour – would leave Australia requiring results to fall their way during England’s four-Test tour of India.
Australia’s next three-Test series, expected to begin in early March, is yet to be locked in because of South Africa’s COVID-19 crisis.
The Rainbow nation has been crippled by a new coronavirus variant, recently reporting its highest daily number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths since the start of the pandemic.
There was speculation the tour could be shifted elsewhere, especially after England aborted a tour of South Africa in December because of positive COVID-19 tests, but recent talks have been promising.
There is hope CA could sign off on the tour by the end of this month as discussions with Cricket South Africa about biosecurity protocols – and the governing body’s ability to show they will be maintained – continue.
“People are working overtime behind the scenes,” coach Justin Langer said on ABC Sport.
“We were so thankful for India to come out and have this series.
“I expect we will do the same for South African cricket.”
CA chief executive Nick Hockley made it clear last month that players and staff’s health and safety will “be the No.1 priority”.
Alex Kountouris and John Orchard would be within their rights to ask for a pay rise after leading CA’s response to the health crisis.
The successful staging of India’s tour delivered a boost of approximately $300 million worth of broadcast revenue for the organisation.
The Seven Network, which bristled after CA rejigged its planned international schedule this summer, reported on Wednesday that its coverage of the four-Test series reached an audience of 10.8 million.
TEST CHAMPIONSHIP TABLE (FINAL CONTENDERS ONLY)
1) India 71.7 per cent
2) New Zealand 70 per cent
3) Australia 69.2 per cent
4) England 65.2 per cent