Proteas face Pakistan flight conundrum as carriers suspend operations

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Cricket South Africa have confirmed that the Proteas Test squad travelled to Pakistan on a hastily arranged chartered flight which leaves the team facing a conundrum.

The Proteas had intended to send a much-changed group to Pakistan for the T20I series that will follow the Test engagements but those clashes could be in doubt with commercial flights between the countries suspended.

Proteas in a pickle in Pakistan

The 21-member team and backroom staff arrived in Karachi on Saturday 16 January for a two-Test series against Pakistan, starting on 26 January. Dolphins seamer Ottniel Baartman was forced to miss the trip with a non-COVID medical issue and was replaced by left-arm Warriors quick Marco Jansen.

A Proteas team spokesperson confirmed on Sunday that CSA had to scramble to arrange a chartered flight after being informed on Thursday that Emirates Airlines had temporarily suspended flights to and from South Africa for what the airline described as “operational reasons”.

The squad were set to travel in groups to Dubai from the airline’s hubs in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban before jetting to Karachi together and entering a bio-secure environment for quarantine.

CSA were able to arrange a charter flight that enabled the team to depart as planned on Friday night, flying directly to Karachi.

The governing body are now faced with a tremendous challenge as restrictions are only likely to get tighter in the coming days and they had intended to send an almost entirely different group for the T20I series with the Test group needing to jet home to prepare for the visit of Australia in March.

The Test series in Pakistan is due to end on 8 February with the T20 internationals scheduled on 11-14 February in Lahore.

“It won’t be our strongest team because the emphasis is on Test cricket against Australia, rightly so. It might be a watered-down T20 team,” team director Mark Boucher said. “And that’s not a bad thing. At the start of the season, I alluded to the fact that we are going to have to use a lot of players. This is an opportunity for guys to put their hands up. We haven’t played a lot of cricket, there haven’t been a lot of A tours and even though it’s not ideal to throw guys into the deep end and make them play international cricket when they are maybe not ready, there are not many other choices at the moment. Some will be pushed into the deep end and we will see how they respond.”

The Test series against Australia in South Africa, which has not yet been confirmed, is likely to start in early March, two weeks later than originally planned.

A CSA source told reporters that COVID-19 protocols would deem it necessary for the Proteas Test squad to return home immediately after the second Test in Pakistan.

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