Cape Town – A delicate game of diplomacy continues over the important matter of exactly when India’s headline, all-formats cricket tour of South Africa will begin this summer.
The Boxing Day Test – at least if it were to be one between those protagonists specifically – is already out of the question due to India’s tight home scheduling against other foes in the immediate lead-up to their SA safari.
As for the traditional, money-spinning New Year Test at Newlands, which will now be the first of the series, it remains a bit of a toss-up as to when, precisely it will begin over the prime holiday period.
The smart bet at this point, based on information available to Sport24, is that the clash will still begin some time within the customary January 2-6 ( or occasionally 3-7) window for it, just not necessarily at its more traditional outset.
While it will undoubtedly irk Capetonians, in particular, that the glamour fixture remains shrouded in some uncertainty from a start-out point of view, perhaps the best, most philosophical approach for cricket purists to take over the tour as an overall entity is that India will still be spending almost eight weeks in the country and tackling the Proteas generously in all three formats.
Haroon Lorgat, CEO of Cricket South Africa, confirmed to this writer in an interview: “It is still a full tour - there will be no slashing.
“The actual content is not in doubt; it is just the (start) date and timing that is the (lingering issue). It is four, five and three.”
By that, Lorgat means four Test matches between the teams presently ranked first (India) and second on the global ladder, plus five one-day internationals and three Twenty20 games involving some of the most appealing individual names in limited-overs cricket.
That is a lucrative total of 12 encounters, which amounts to more than on any prior Indian visit to South Africa.
The closest previous tally was 11 on the 1992/93 tour, the only prior occasion in six Indian visits when four longest-format matches have been played (there were also seven ODIs then).
It is also a major step up, in volume-of-matches terms, from the last, controversy-plagued tour here in 2013/14, when India’s BCCI controlling body, which had frosty relations at the time with CSA, curtailed the roster to merely two Tests and three ODIs.
Lorgat says the current impasse, restricted only to when the Indians will actually open combat with the Proteas, is no signal of any residual tension between the administrations.
“No, it’s not that … look, this is not the first or second time only that there have been issues with setting out or confirming fixtures with BCCI.
“Some of it one can understand - even if we don’t necessarily agree with it because we shouldn’t be running business in that fashion - but look at the various challenges they’ve got: it’s not something that is top priority for them.
“What has complicated their lives is Sri Lanka being brought into their roster which finishes very late in December. They only confirmed that a week or two ago, and now they are turning their attention to our fixtures.
“They have indicated (as is already known – Sport24) they can’t do a Boxing Day Test because their last game against Sri Lanka finishes somewhere between December 20 and 23. Then they want a couple of days at home for their players - because they are coming for an eight-week tour.
“It’s very difficult to have your players end a series today and be on a plane tomorrow, as it were.”
But are CSA still fighting our corner spiritedly for preservation of the New Year Test in as orthodox a starting frame as possible?
“Absolutely, we really are going to great lengths to show how important and traditional that Test match is,” says Lorgat.
“It will be a big disappointment for us if it doesn’t begin on the 2nd or 3rd. In the climate currently, where we are trying to promote and even save Test cricket, it (endangering the traditional start) is not the best thing to do.
“This is not a fixture you should be tampering with, because it is one that works. People look forward to that event. It is a sought-after date.
“It is not just the fans in stadium: that match gets watched all over the world … we know that from the distribution of our (broadcasting) rights.
“But the BCCI needs to also deliver their own fixtures, and I guess they’ll take the view that they do what is best for them first.
“It is difficult to know when (the itinerary will be publicly announced). If we were happy to start around the 6th or 7th it would probably be signed off already. But we are trying to demonstrate how important it is for us to start as close to the 2nd as possible.
“It’s not just about local people … foreign visitors are in there (Cape Town) during that first week of January; they stay for the first couple of days the Test match is on. Most people return to work around the 7th, 8th or 9th.”
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing