MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's decision to pull out of next month's three-test tour in South Africa due to the COVID-19 pandemic is "extremely disappointing" considering the hosts had put in place a number of safety measures, Cricket South Africa (CSA) said on Tuesday.
The tour's postponement means New Zealand have become the first team to qualify for the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final, which will be held in England from June 18, the International Cricket Council (ICC) said.
"New Zealand are currently ranked second on the ICC WTC table with a points percentage of 70%, which has secured them a place in the final," the ICC added.
"They will be joined by either India, England, or Australia with the second spot being determined by the outcome of the India v England four-match test series due to start on Friday."
Cricket Australia's interim chief executive Nick Hockley had said in an earlier statement that travelling from Australia to South Africa posed an unacceptable level of health and safety risk to players, support staff and the community.
No dates were given on when the tour might take place.
But CSA Director of Cricket Graeme Smith believes the Australian concerns are unfounded.
"We are extremely disappointed by the decision of CA," Smith said in a statement. "CSA has been working tirelessly in recent weeks to ensure that we meet every single expectation of CA.
"So to be informed about the CA decision at the eleventh hour is frustrating."
South Africa has recorded more than 1.45 million coronavirus cases and over 44,000 deaths. Since late last year, it has been battling a more transmissible variant of the virus.
The country hosted Sri Lanka for two tests around the turn of the year and their test side are currently touring Pakistan.
CSA acting chief executive officer Pholetsi Moseki said costs already incurred by the organisation in planning for the Australia tour were significant.
"In this challenging period for cricket and its member countries, we believe the stance taken by CA is regrettable and will have a serious impact on the sustainability of the less wealthy cricket playing nations."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai and Nick Said in Cape Town; Editing by Alex Richardson, John Stonestreet and Pritha Sarkar)