Going from a safe haven to a Covid war zone makes no sense: why Aussies were right to spurn South Africa

There’s a lot of mythology around the typical Australian being tough, independent and a bit of a larrikin; that we aren’t bound by rules, that we don’t bow to authority. The truth is that, not to put too fine a point on it, that’s mostly baloney!

Take Covid, for example. While we’ve watched pitched battles across the globe between the masked and the unmasked, between the vaxxers and the anti-vaxxers, and between science and conspiracy theories, Australia has, to a very large extent, remained at peace.

Despite the odd rumble, the average Aussie has been extraordinarily compliant with a whole range of Government mandates, and we have been rewarded with a relatively normal lifestyle across the country.

Last week, for example, two million Western Australians were locked down hard for five days because of one case, and there was virtually unanimous support! So now, Australians are feeling pretty pleased with themselves, happy to see everyone masked up, and feeling sad, and perhaps a little smug, when we look at the devastation occurring in so many other countries right now.

A huge proportion of us have relatives elsewhere going through the privations inflicted by this dreadful pandemic. From that place, I try to put myself in the shoes of an Australian Test cricketer, admittedly a hard task considering my great age and lack of talent.

There is no doubt I would love to play against South Africa in South Africa. It’s a chance to prove a whole lot, to myself, and to the world. But how much risk am I prepared to take? It could seriously impact not just me, but my family, possibly my country.

Do I trust a “bubble” in a country with a death rate 22 times higher than Australia’s, a testing rate 93 per cent lower, and with a particular virulent new strain of the virus rampant?

Were I already in a country wracked by this plague, the relative risk of going would seem small, but to go from a safe haven to a Covid war zone seems madness. All the tea in china would not entice me to go.

So we come to Cricket Australia, not a body I often seek to defend. However, for this one I believe they have called it right. The safety of the players is paramount, as are their views. Not often reported is the statement of the Australian Cricketers’ Association that they “supported the ‘prudent decision’ to call off the tour”, indicative of a consensus between players and administrators.

The extraordinary howls of derision from media in the (mostly Covid-devastated) rest of the world have attributed all sorts of motivations from cowardice to financial self-interest, and it’s suited a lot of the narrative around the “Big 3” (India, England & Australia) not giving a damn about cricket elsewhere (a view I have great sympathy with), to say nothing of never missing a chance to give Cricket Australia a big whack.

But it’s a convenient conflation of completely separate issues. There may indeed be grounds for criticism of the way CA reached their decision, and strung along Cricket South Africa needlessly, but, at the end of the day, the right decision was reached.

I, for one, am relieved, though disappointed at the loss of a much-anticipated series.

Those of us who love the beautiful game know that, despite all the rivalries, the financial interests and the political power plays, it is still just a game, and that the safety of those playing it is far more important than all those other considerations.