Cape Town - Further confirmation of South Africa’s slipping economic power, if you like, in sport will come with the revelation of Test fixtures for the International Cricket Council’s next four-year cycle of major matches around the globe.
In a nutshell, the Proteas are expected to have their annual average allocation of Test matches reduced by around two matches - and are likely to play fewer games in the format even than minnows Bangladesh will.
The current Future Tours Programme (FTP) over a traditional four-year period comes to an end in April 2019.
An ICC workshop in Singapore recently discussed plans for the next FTP (May 2019 to May 2023) and the proposed itinerary - leaked into the public space this week - will be signed off at a meeting of the various member countries’ chief executives in February.
It is understood that South Africa - the nation effectively bubbling under the closest to, but not part of, the “Big Three” of India, England and Australia in world cricket - will play 32 Tests in the cycle, an average of eight a year.
That puts them fifth in volume terms, well below England (46, average more than 11), Australia (40), India (37) and even the limited Bangladeshis who are due to play 35.
Nevertheless, a silver lining to some extent is that the Proteas will generally have a greater emphasis on “strength versus strength” Test activity, as 19 of the 32 Tests will come against the aforementioned Big Three.
Whenever South Africa play certain home series against weaker foes - like when they painfully smashed Bangladesh over two Tests at lesser venues Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein in early season - the bean-counters aren’t exactly dancing in the corridors.
So in some ways a stronger push toward playing the better sides makes sense, although that also means that South Africa’s best players are increasingly robbed of chances to fill their boots statistically against the lesser powers.
As it is, the allocation of Test matches remains a hot potato globally for fairness and legitimacy, and the proposed new arrangements will not make any easier in those respects the developing plans for a Test “league” system.
The ICC seems to be taking a near-unapologetic stance of fishing where the fish are in financial and spectator-interest terms, with India and England playing as many as two five-Test series (ones of that duration will increasingly fall away for various other teams) in the next FTP.
Iconic Ashes series - one of the few Test events still drawing robust gates - will also continue to be largely untampered with.
As for the Proteas, they are earmarked for just one series even containing four Tests in the four years to 2023, against England.
Although additional, bilateral series can still be arranged by mutual consent, above and beyond the FTP stipulations, South Africa are due to play 45 ODIs in the cycle, again well less than India (a massive 61), West Indies (61), Sri Lanka (48) and Australia (48), although it will be bigger than England’s intended allocation of 43.
The Proteas, at 42, will also play more Twenty20 internationals than either England or Australia, a sign of where South African gate interest, certainly at home, is increasingly better suited over the more traditional Test format.
Another feature of the new FTP will be that the days of all-formats tours – like the one in the next few weeks when India visit our shores for three Tests, six ODIs and three T20s - are notably dying.
*Sport24 has approached CSA for comment over the proposed FTP for 2019-2023.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing