England's Test series in South Africa at the end of the year will feature four Tests instead of the anticipated five, after an agreement was reached between the ECB and Cricket South Africa to relieve the fixture congestion that is building up for the two teams next year.
The tour will now consist of two Twenty20 internationals in Johannesburg and Centurion, followed by five ODIs and four Tests at Centurion, Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. England will arrive in the country on November 7, and fly home on January 19.
"We are grateful to colleagues and friends in South Africa who have worked with us to provide what we believe is an exciting and well-balanced tour," said Hugh Morris, the ECB's director of England cricket. "It makes good sense to start with the ODIs given the schedule of cricket that we have in September, October and November 2009."
The decision to drop a Test match for scheduling reasons will undoubtedly cause ructions, especially in light of the recent decision to allow England's players a three-week window to play in the IPL in April and May. Paul Collingwood who, barring injury, would expect to be involved in all forms of the game from now until the end of that tour, yesterday told reporters in St Kitts that players have no right to moan about their workload in their current financially lucrative climate.
England's next 12 months, however, will include home-and-away series against West Indies, possible stints with the IPL, the ICC World Twenty20 and the Ashes, as well as a host of one-day events including the rescheduled Champions Trophy that had been meant to take place in Pakistan last September. Logistically, something had to give.
Nevertheless, as CSA's general manager Brian Basson pointed out, by breaking from the standard practice of holding the ODIs after the Test series, the itinerary makes best use of the time constraints, and ensures that the marquee event - the Test series - will remain in its rightful position at the height of the South African summer.
"The format of the tour itinerary depicts a departure from the norm," said Basson, "but given the rigid constraints of the Future Tours Programme, it was necessary to do so in order to distribute all of the Pro20 and ODI matches at all Test venues during appropriate time slots, whilst simultaneously retaining the traditional peak holiday periods for the scheduling of Test matches.
"Further advantages of the format are that the ICC Champions Trophy precedes the England tour, and the Proteas tour to India scheduled at the conclusion of the tour will commence with the staging of Test matches."
Morris was sure that the agreed itinerary would suit all parties. "The four Test matches are scheduled for iconic grounds of South Africa," he said, "and I am sure that thousands of England supporters will be looking forward to spending their Christmas and New Year holidays following the team."
The four Tests will begin on December 16 in Centurion, followed by the traditional Boxing Day Test in Durban, which has been reinstated after the 2007 match against West Indies was held at Port Elizabeth.
The New Year Test is once again scheduled for Cape Town, although the match is due to start a day later than usual, on January 3, to allow a longer recovery period between matches. The series will then be concluded at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on January 14-18.