Massive ramifications of abandoned cricket tour
Australia's tour of South Africa has been sensationally postponed, leaving Tim Paine's team to face the agony of all but certainly missing the inaugural World Test Championship final.
That nightmare only worsens because Australia may be left to rue the extraordinary reality that being docked points for a slow over rate on Boxing Day has ended up being the difference between securing a shot at history.
As revealed exclusively by News Corp, Cricket Australia received key medical advice that the team should not tour, and on Tuesday night it was officially confirmed that the three-Test series due to start on March 3 will not go ahead.
Cricket Australia desperately wanted to tour South Africa and help out the embattled cricket nation, but it could not be saved in a stunning blow to world cricket and a potential financial catastrophe for the once proud Proteas.
Watch every match of the 2020/21 KFC BBL Finals Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Fox Cricket, available on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly >
South Africa is being gripped by a mutant strain of the virus and the country currently has a positivity rate with its testing of a staggering 10 per cent, and Cricket Australia's medical experts advised the tour was unsafe, with interim CEO Nick Hockley informing his counterparts CA had no other choice but to pull out.
"Due to the public health situation in South Africa, which includes a second wave and new variant of the virus, and following extensive due diligence with medical experts, it has become clear that traveling from Australia to South Africa at this current time poses an unacceptable level of health and safety risk to our players, support staff and the community," said Hockley.
"We acknowledge the significant amount of work by CSA in planning for the tour, during which we made it clear that CA was prepared to take on additional cost and effort to make the series happen.
"This decision has not been made lightly and we are extremely disappointed, especially given the importance of continuing international cricket at this time, our valued relationship with CSA, and our aspirations to compete in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship.
"However, we have been consistent since the start of the pandemic that the health and safety of our people is always our number one priority and unfortunately despite best efforts to agree a biosecurity plan, the risks are simply too great at this time.
"As difficult and disappointing a decision as this is, especially for Justin, Tim and the team, we have a duty of care to our people and their health and safety can't be compromised.
"We look forward to playing the series against CSA at a date to be confirmed in due course and we send CSA and the people of South Africa our very best wishes for a successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and a return to normality soon."
Abandoning the series due to medical safety concerns, instantly removes any doubt over Tim Paine captaining Australia in next summer's Ashes.
Cricket Australia may also have a decision to make over whether it now shoehorns Justin Langer into coach this month's Twenty20 tour in New Zealand instead, or simply lets him rest.
Selectors last week named a squad for the series, which was crucial to Australia's hopes of qualifying for the Test Championship but Cricket Australia would not compromise on the safety of its players and staff, and could not guarantee their wellbeing on the road could be guaranteed.
There are no contingencies in place, meaning it appears unlikely the series could be moved to another location like Perth or the UAE in the same timeslot, hence why there are catastrophic implications on Australia making the Test Championship Final in June.
Australia needed to beat South Africa to achieve their two-year goal of qualifying for the inaugural showpiece.
But they now have to rely on the mathematics of England's tour of India to be any chance of sneaking into a June decider against New Zealand at Lord's.
Essentially, India only needs to win two Tests and draw one of the other two Tests against England to eliminate Australia - meaning the Aussies need England to be competitive, without winning by more than 2-0 themselves.
Despite their chastening loss at home to India - Australia would have already qualified for the Final had match referee David Boon not smashed them with a points penalty for having a slow over-rate at the MCG during the Boxing Day Test.
Australia obliterated New Zealand last summer, yet the Black Caps have leapfrogged them into the Final in a painful reminder of how costly the Indian series has been.
The South African tour being shifted out of the calendar has killed off the potential for an epic rematch against India at Lord's, but as disappointed as Australia will be, in an a funny way it might give the side a more settled feel leading into next summer's Ashes.
Cricket Australia has already given Paine their strongest backing and without another Test series between now and the Ashes, the 36-year-old keeper will be locked in as leader with no risk of any speedbumps on the horizon.
It could also be an intriguing change in landscape for Langer, after a week where whispers have come out of the Australian dressing room about his coaching methods.
With South Africa off, Langer may not get in front of his group again until the lead-in to October's World Twenty20 in India, although there is now a possibility he could join the touring party headed for New Zealand next week instead - because a schedule clash between two Australian teams has been averted.
Originally published as Postponed: Massive ramifications of abandoned tour