Leading with the lip

2008-06-20 00:00

Somewhere in South Africa there must be a couple of villages in search of their idiots.

The untidy departure from Newlands of Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Ashwell Prince suggests that some of the idiots are working for the Western Province Cricket Union. For some time, concern has been growing that Western Province, once one of the treasures of South Africa’s cricket landscape, has been steadily driven towards the precipice by the policies of Percy Sonn and those who have chosen to follow in his unsteady footsteps. The foolhardy purchase by that union of Newlands cricket ground may have satisfied some grandiose dreams, but it has done nothing to improve its cash flow.

That a cricket union is short of the kind of money required to pay the best players is the kind of thing that can happen when it is poorly managed, but, is no reason for the coach of that province to publicly insult three players who have now chosen to play their cricket elsewhere.

To say that Kallis, Boucher and Prince are not good enough to play for the Western Cape Cobras is such nonsense that one fears for the sanity of Shukri Conrad, the man who uttered the ill-considered words. A wiser coach could have named several quite valid reasons for not wanting them in his squad.

The irregularity of availability due to international commitments is one such reason, which would have found sympathy among his fellow coaches. It is not easy to spend a season developing cricketers only to find the international players clamouring to play in the big finals when they do become available. What does a coach say to a player who has played every match in his team’s road to a final, but is no longer required because Kevin Superstar is suddenly available? It is a tricky situation in which a coach needs to weigh the long-term benefits against the short term pressures on him to produce the silver.

What would it have cost Conrad to have thanked the three (not that Boucher played a single match for the Cobras or Western Province) for whatever services they had been able to perform, to have regretted their departure and to have wished them well in their new employment? Instead, he made a fool of himself and increased the growing doubt that the Cobra franchise is a team that any player would want to be associated with for as long as Conrad and his current masters are in charge at Newlands.

Why is it that neither the president nor the CEO of Western Province has seen fit to rebuke Conrad for his public spitefulness? Did the dreaded Norman Arendse not feel the need to make amends for Conrad’s bile? It is no coincidence that the three players have gone to the Eastern Cape Warriors — a province that has the best chief executive (Dave Emslie) in the country.

I raise this issue because the pressures that Twenty20 cricket are going to put on the game in this country requires a great deal of clear thinking from those involved in its management. This is not a time for hurtful remarks aimed at those players who are in the forefront of what could be the most far reaching revolution the game has seen. The possibility of a global Champion’s League has been raised by the ICC. The Australians have been charged with the responsibility of drawing up the League’s rules of engagement. The prize money for the winning team has been set at $5 million. This should be enough of the folding stuff to gain any player’s attention and to encourage the building of Twenty20 specific teams in all cricket playing countries.

In South Africa, the free market in players is restricted by the salary cap imposed by CSA. No province can spend more than a given amount on its 16 contracted players. This is eminently sensible in a situation in which the provinces compete amongst themselves, but may not work when a large money prize is available for a global competition and other teams are not so restricted. How this plays out is anyone’s guess, but it is an example of the pressures Twenty20 cricket is placing on conventional structures.

Already, a player like Kallis is rumoured to be thinking of confining his cricket to Test matches and the Indian Premier League. Others are sure to follow. Players love Test match cricket, but find the 50-over game something of a grind. A response from the ICC may be to legislate that a player may not play in the IPL unless he is available for all his country’s international commitments. That could raise all sorts of legal issues.

For cricket’s administrators these are complicated times that could easily become fraught, followed by a full blown revolution in which private interests dominate. This could mean cheerio to all the development work done by counties, states, provinces and islands all over the world.

This might be no bad thing given that most of the world’s best players have not come out of the various “schools of excellence” and other such extravagant names under which professional coaching schemes now operate.

Could it be that Twenty20 is not only the catalyst that will bring cricket back full circle to a time when schools and amateur clubs provided all its players, but also the means to restore some idiots back to their villages?

•Ray White is a former UCB president.

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