Where to for cricket in South Africa

2015-04-02 00:00

LAST Tuesday, South Africans held their breath as the Proteas battled with New Zealand for a spot in the World Cup final.

Even those who claim to show little interest in the sport stood still for a ­moment to take it all in as the Proteas were pipped at the post and once again denied what has become something more than just a Holy Grail.

It was a match that went down to the wire and for once, the Proteas really made a fist of it. No choking here, just moments of missed opportunities, the game won and lost by millimetres when analysing what could have been.

That’s all been confined to the history books now and while South Africa cried, sighed and wondered why, controversy raised its head concerning selection of the side who took to the field. Stories have done the rounds and continue to do the rounds of wrong players selected, SMSes being sent advising coach Russell Domingo who to have in the team and the charade of politicians denying any involvement.

People may form whatever opinion of the so-called truth they wish, but to many South African observers, this could be the closest South Africa will ever get to winning the World Cup.

A thread of fear, mixed with trepidation, perhaps a sigh of defeat even, has gone through South African cricket circles as politicians have wielded the quota system wand once more, which has a huge influence on domestic cricket next season.

Currently, the six franchises — Dolphins, Cobras, Warriors, Knights, Lions and Titans — are allowed 18 contracted players. That’s a mere 108 professional players countrywide, a drop in the ocean when considering the talent being nurtured and sprouted at school level. You have to be damn good to play the game and the new system ups the ante, meaning you have to be bloody good, spectacular, more than just special.

CSA (Cricket South Africa) issued a statement at the weekend highlighting that for next season, the franchises will be required to field at least six players of colour and at least three black African players in all competitions. That doesn’t leave much space for the rest and those brave enough to cast an eye to the future, are already predicting a mass exodus of cricket talent that will be lost to the country, youngsters far better off plying their trade in England and elsewhere.

While that may happen, the quota sage is nothing new in cricket or SA sport. Ever since we returned from isolation, that gun has always been held to the heads of administrators in the various sport codes and there has been some positive outcomes from it all.

This is something we have to live with and rather than turn red in the face and have an unnecessary adrenaline rush, we need to look objectively at the issue and decide how to work with it and make it work.

General chatter in cricket circles is for CSA to create say two further franchises. This gives more opportunity and creates another 36 vacant spots for possible contracted players. It creates more job positions and coaching opportunities for those keen to move the game forward. It’s easier said than done though and seems unlikely with the current six-franchise format having been in operation for many a season.

To boost their announcement for next season, CSA have given each franchise a once-off subsidy of R350 000 to set off the costs of contracting an additional black African player but the worrying aspect is how the goalposts keep getting moved.

Originally, only two players of colour needed to be in a team and as the years have gone by, the arrangement keeps changing. This is a huge frustration for those involved in the game and making a living from it as they start seeing themselves as something akin to a freelance player, never quite sure if they will have a job or income the next season.

Parents of talented schoolboy cricketers are shaking their heads in disbelief, resigned to the fact their lads will never make the grade in their own country, no matter how they perform or what they achieve. For many, it’s a time to either pack up the game or move on.

However, on the Dolphins front, it’s not all doom and gloom. CSA, among others, commended the Dolphins in the just completed Sunfoil Four-Day Series for fielding five black African players at various stages of the competition, which saw the franchise finish third. Yes, some players had to sit out to make matters run smoothly, but that’s how sport works in our country and it’s up to the individual to decide how to deal with it.

Talk won’t solve anything and what needs to be done is getting players involved in the game at grassroots level, something similar to JP Duminy’s programme in the Cape whereby the game is being introduced and coached in areas where there has been no cricket culture.

In such a way, players are groomed properly for the game and brought through the various levels as they progress, rather than being thrown in a lions’ den, on a massive stage, and being criticised for not performing.

It’s always a talking point but it’s here to stay. It lends a whole new meaning to being a professional sportsman in South Africa where those hours off the field need to be spent with noses buried in books, studying toward an alternative profession, which could come in handy for later years.

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