CHANNEL Nine says South Africa's decision to not tour over the traditional Christmas and New Year period is less than ideal, declaring that the marquee series of the season should be held in the peak of summer.
South Africa's five series in Australia since returning to international cricket post-apartheid all had featured Tests on two of the sport's grandest occasions - Boxing Day in Melbourne and the New Year's clash in Sydney - but because its home season clashes with the Australian summer and Cricket Australia refuses to reciprocate series, Cricket South Africa has recently insisted on hosting its own Boxing Day Test.
But some Australian officials are gobsmacked that CSA has scheduled a Twenty20 clash against New Zealand in Port Elizabeth on Boxing Day this year, a move that has riled their own supporters and forced CSA into an embarrassing backdown and pledging to host a Test next summer.
''Not having a Boxing Day Test this year is a one-off and will not be repeated next year,'' CSA spokesman Michael Owen-Smith told The Sunday Age.
Former CSA chief executive Gerald Majola was the force behind the decision to snub the MCG and SCG Tests, but he was sacked yesterday after an independent investigation found he had pocketed unsanctioned bonuses of $190,000 linked to international tournaments in 2009.
The Proteas will play three Tests in Australia, starting on November 9 at the Gabba - their first in Brisbane for nearly 50 years - with Adelaide and Perth the other venues. They will return home before Christmas. Sri Lanka, instead, will be in Australia for the Melbourne and Sydney Tests.
Nine's executive producer of cricket Brad McNamara said his network would have preferred the battle between the Proteas, the world's No. 1-ranked Test team, and the No. 3-ranked Australia to be staged over the Christmas and New Year period when more people were on holidays. ''We would, but it's always been difficult for South Africa basically having the same season as us,'' he said yesterday.
''We knew this was going to happen. Even over the years when South Africa came out and played the Boxing Day Test, they were always agitating for their own window so they can do that themselves back home.
''Not to disparage Sri Lanka, but the battle for the No. 1 Test ranking would have suited everyone better beginning Boxing Day than when it is. Generally, Boxing Day is acknowledged as our biggest day of the year. You would prefer to have your marquee events happening on that day if at all possible.
''But the schedule is probably the most difficult thing in cricket at the moment. Getting everyone here when we want them there, and when they can get here, is becoming a very difficult issue for Cricket Australia.''
The Proteas were compensated by CA in the years they toured over the Christmas period.
They have argued Australia should reciprocate and tour South Africa at Christmas, but CA maintains that it is not possible, because the Sydney and Melbourne Tests remain strong - and pivotal - in terms of crowd and commercial support. ''Boxing Day at the MCG is an important part of the annual Australian cricket calendar,'' CA spokesman Peter Young said.
Owen-Smith said Australia's reluctance to tour South Africa over Christmas meant his board had little choice. ''While they are unable to come to SA for festive-season Test matches, we cannot afford to continue giving up the revenue we lose if Australia are not going to reciprocate by coming to SA during the festive season,'' he said.