Clouds form on the horizon of SA cricket

2013-10-05 00:00

IT started with back tracking on the recommendations of the sensible Nicholson report and gained momentum with the appointment of a new Cricket South Africa (CSA) board that was representative of a number of different constituencies, but failed noticeably to include anyone who might reasonably be said to represent the game itself.

Thereafter, the appointments were announced of, firstly, a new CEO, Haroon Lorgat (despite warnings from South African cricket’s biggest trading partner, India) and then a successor to the incumbent chairman of selectors. This latter development must have been a surprise to Andrew Hudson who, as far as one knows, was given no indication that he was about to step down from a difficult job that he had performed with distinction, although not without some errors.

Hudson’s putative replacement is destined to be Hussein Manack, an opportunist who has emerged onto the national stage as a by-product of the long drawn out and racially charged difficulties of the Gauteng Cricket Board. Manack was one of a group of “concerned cricketers” who sought to take advantage of the turmoil caused in Gauteng cricket by the unwarranted intervention into the affairs of that province by CSA.

It is ironic that Dr Mtutuzeli Nyoka and Gerald Majola, who led the intervention, soon became embroiled in a personal feud that resulted in both of them losing their coveted positions in cricket. The aftermath of their dispute has seen the rise of two men who many fear will not serve cricket in a manner that looks after all its participants. There are concerns among people who know of Manack’s background that he was not the right person to take over what is probably one of the most important positions in South African cricket.

One of the requirements of the chairman of selectors is that he should have played the game at its highest levels. Manack does not possess this basic qualification. After the unification of cricket in 1992, Manack was given a chance to represent Transvaal, but quickly showed himself to have had neither the temperament nor technique to succeed in first-class cricket. He was quickly discarded and spent the rest of his career playing club cricket where he failed to produce any performances of note — while all the time nursing a deep bitterness that his talents had been overlooked.

Lorgat’s appointment has already cost CSA dear in terms of its relationship with India. One hopes that this will not be an enduring problem, because the impact on South African cricket of a financial squeeze will be severe and far reaching. Those who may doubt this would do well to take note of the remarks of Geoff Millar, the chairman of the England selectors, when he responded to questions following the announcement of the multinational team who had been chosen to defend the Ashes in Australia.

He was unapologetic about the large number of foreign-born players in his team, claiming that they had all “learnt to play cricket” in England. What was more disturbing was his claim that it had become the policy of the ECB to “scour the world for quality cricketers who are qualified to play for England”.

Given the wide range of qualifying criteria, and England’s history as a reaper of colonial resources, there are any number of future cricketers who are so qualified, not least of all in South Africa.

Millar’s attitude is also aligned to the ECB’s strategy to ensure that cricket is a business in which the cut and thrust of the corporate world is reproduced throughout all its operations. The ECB has long discarded any amateurish notions of protecting the ethos of the game. For them, cricket is a business where their aim is to be the best in the world over the long haul. Cyclical variations in the standard of the national team, such as currently experienced by Australia, do not fit into the ECB’s planning to secure a permanent position at the top of cricket’s pile.

If young cricketers in this country are to be faced with diminished salaries due to the problems with India — as well as the artificial restraints placed on those who are pigmentally disadvantaged — it will not be surprising if Trott, Pietersen and Ballance are the forerunners of a flood of Southern African talent towards England. It is not uncommon for county cricketers to receive salaries of R1,5 million. This must seem attractive to twenty-something South Africans, even without the rewards available to those who crack the England team.

On the playing front, the national teams face the prospect of life without Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, as well as an immediate future with a coach who is inexperienced at handling teams on the international stage. It will be a blow to the playing strength of the team to lose players of the stature of Kallis and Smith, but the real damage will be done to the acquired experience and leadership of the Proteas.

It would not be too pessimistic to say that South African cricket faces a crisis of leadership both on and off the field. If Lorgat and Manack are to guide the game through the growing external difficulties, they will have to demonstrate a hitherto hidden ability to show that they are both bigger than the fractious politicking that has thrust them into positions of such responsibility.

Their tasks would be less complicated if the board of directors comprised people whose backgrounds were steeped in the peculiarities of the business that cricket has become.

The board, however, fluffed its first opportunity to display some wisdom by antagonising the wealthiest and most influential cricket board in the world when it bungled the only major appointment within its remit. The consequences of that mistake are likely to bedevil many of its conversations over the coming years.

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