In the Boxing Day Test against India, South Africa put in about as dominant a performance as is possible.

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Up against a team containing several greats of the game, finalists in each of the first two World Test Championships, competitive in all conditions unlike Indian team before them, the Proteas were clinical. KL Rahul’s first innings fightback was quickly put into perspective by Dean Elgar putting on a show in his farewell series. The quicks were quick, and the movement they found was devastating. India were razed for 131 in the second innings and lost by an innings.

And how have South Africa responded? By leaving out nine of those 11 players for their next Test tour, of New Zealand. The squad includes seven uncapped players, including uncapped captain Neil Brand. Calling it second-string would be generous.

However, this isn’t the selection call to make Darren Pattinson, Shoaib Bashir and the rest pale into insignificance. It is a choice, but there are reasons behind it. Cricket South Africa have taken a look at the balance books and at the World Test Championship table and reasoned that, if they don’t prioritise the former, they won’t be around much longer to contest the latter.

Last year, CSA chief executive Pholetsi Moseki made the situation clear while speaking to ESPNcricinfo: “We still want bilateral cricket to be supreme but the reality for countries like us is that you only make money when you play India. In the pre-Covid year, in 2019, we hosted England and Australia and we still made a loss. So we have to look at other options.”

Then, he was defending the decision that should be considered the precursor to this one: South Africa forfeiting an ODI series against Australia. Like this time, doing so significantly dented their chances in an international event. Back then it was World Cup qualification, and this time it’s the World Test Championship. And like this time, CSA did so to prioritise their new franchise T20 competition, the SA20. As soon as the fixture clash became clear, Moseki made clear which way South Africa would lean. “Protea players in the SA20 will not be going to New Zealand and that is a directive from CSA,” he said. If South African cricket is to survive, SA20 needs to thrive.

This is not the players’ decision, many of whom have been adamant in their desire to play more Test matches. “I see Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game, and a lot of the players in the change-room, if not all, would see that,” Kagiso Rabada said earlier this year.

And while it is CSA’s call, it’s hardly their fault. They are not world cricket’s powerbrokers, who have accrued the game’s global revenue for themselves and left the rest to wither. The ‘Big Three’ and the ICC share culpability for the situation. That all of the six SA20 franchises were snapped up by Indian Premier League team owners shows who most stands to benefit.

South Africa may yet prove competitive against New Zealand, against whom they have never lost a Test series. The emergence of Nandre Burger, who overcame injury after injury to hurl down 92mph left-arm rockets on international debut, shows the resilience both of South Africa’s talent pools and the cricketers who rise from them. And even if they do lose, they may still make the WTC final, with home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan and away tours to West Indies and Bangladesh representing about as easy a schedule as is possible.

But this, as Ian Bishop, as clued-in a pundit as it is possible to find, has said this is “another indication of the changing landscape of the game”. Cricketers dream of playing for their countries and governing bodies are charged with ensuring their success. Now, a governing body is preventing its cricketers from playing for their country, hurting their chances, and it’s hard to criticise either too harshly. The blame lies elsewhere.