This tour would have been a wonderful opportunity for many of the Australia A players. (AAP: Glenn Hunt)
For the first time in the history of Australian cricket, a national team has actively and wilfully decided to cancel a playing tour of another country.
That the situation descended to this farcical point is enough of an indictment on Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association’s lack of ability to reach anything resembling a compromise in this relentless pay dispute.
But when you consider the timing of this Australia A tour to South Africa and the precarious position so many of the players find themselves in with respect to their careers, you start to get a sense of how seriously the players are taking this situation.
After all, all going well, one can only assume we are mere months away from an Ashes series on home soil, the pinnacle of the game in this country and the sort of occasion that forges careers and legends within Australian cricket.
Provided cricket sorts itself out and doesn’t force an extended winter upon us all, one hell of a battle is about to break out as players fight desperately for one of the few vacant spots in the Australian XI for that first Test at the Gabba on November 23.
Make no mistake, this Australia A tour was an audition for the summer. A chance for some of the Test team’s fringe players to follow in the footsteps of Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb in turning recent Australia A success into a Test opportunity.
Take Glenn Maxwell, a player who has incrementally broken into the Test team but faces a constant fight to be considered a regular in the first XI.
A breakthrough century in India earlier this year went some way to convincing selectors he was a Test prospect, but he is hardly a lock for the Gabba. This tour of South Africa, on pitches that most closely resemble our own and with the burden of leadership upon his shoulders, was the perfect test.
Maxwell has chosen to forgo that opportunity.
What about Usman Khawaja? So thrilling to watch in full flight, but someone who has never completely secured the trust of the Australian selectors.
Usman Khawaja needs time in the middle and runs, which he would have found on tour. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
They trusted him to captain this Australia A tour though, hoping to discover if he has the backbone to lead a team in the field and with the bat. Runs on this tour would have made it very hard for Trevor Hohns and co to leave him out in November.
Khawaja has chosen to leave his own fate up in the air.
And there are the likes of Ashton Agar, Travis Head, Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers. Players who, for some time now, have operated on the outskirts of the fringes of the Australian Test team, occasionally poking their heads into the conversation but too regularly finding themselves down the pecking order.
You know what would have been handy for them? A stack of runs or a mountain of wickets on a competitive tour against a very decent South Africa A team.
They will likely remain on the fringe without the chance to prove to the selectors they are worthy of more.
How about the kids? The young rising stars who have just seen someone like Renshaw propel himself rapidly from relative obscurity to the international stage, and look every bit the part.
Australia A was a large part of Renshaw’s rise, and you can be sure Mitchell Swepson, Jack Wildermuth, Hilton Cartwright and Kurtis Patterson all believed this tour could be for them too.
But again, those players have turned down the chance to make a name for themselves.
For all of these players, this is not a sacrifice to underplay. Quite simply, cricketers want to play cricket, and for them to band together and choose not to, they must truly believe in the cause.
Where cricket in this country goes from here, nobody knows, but if CA was banking on the players’ love of the game and career plans leading to cracks in the armour, they are clearly mistaken.