Stay out of politics, minister warns Graeme Smith

2011-01-22 14:41

Sports minister Fikile Mbalula has warned national captain Graeme Smith not to take sides in a South African cricket power struggle ahead of a series-deciding ODI against India tomorrow.

Opening batsman Smith backed Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive Gerald Majola against president Mtutuzeli Nyoka in a clash linked to 2009 Indian Premier League (IPL) bonuses.

But recently appointed Mbalula told a South African commercial radio station that Smith must stay out of “politics” and concentrate on cricket, with the World Cup in India less than one month away.

“Graeme Smith is a great captain and we get disturbed when players are drawn into wrangling and squabbles within the top management and the board,” Mbalula told listeners.

In a statement issued by CSA, Smith said: “Majola has always backed the team to the hilt in every possible way, whether it be human resources, facilities or anything else.

“He must take his share of the credit for the successes we have enjoyed over the last period of time,” added the skipper in comments endorsed by team manager Mohammed Moosajee.

However, it is understood not all squad members supported the statement, believing it should not have taken sides between Majola and Nyoka, once team-mates at an Eastern Cape cricket club.

Nyoka favoured an independent inquiry into bonuses paid to Majola after South Africa hosted the 2009 IPL Twenty20 tournament because of security concerns as its dates clashed with Indian elections.

But after former chief justice Pius Langa was appointed to lead the probe, CSA did a U-turn by opting for an internal investigation and Majola emerged largely unscathed.

Nyoka has alleged the CEO lied to him about the bonuses, Majola refuses to comment, and the 11 provincial cricket union presidents are expected to back a no-confidence motion against the president at an imminent meeting.

On the pitch, South Africa will enter the fifth and final ODI upbeat after a 48-run triumph against India yesterday in a Port Elizabeth game decided by the Duckworth-Lewis method following a second rain stoppage.

The Proteas won the first game in Durban, then lost in Johannesburg and Cape Town despite their rivals lacking injured batting stars Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.

Middle-order failures concern India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni most with Virat Kohli – undefeated on 87 off 92 balls – the notable exception at St George’s Park.

“The middle order has not clicked,” admitted Dhoni. “Kohli was a big positive for us, but the other batsmen need to chip in. The team that handles pressure best on Sunday will win the series.”

After a drawn three-Test series, the weather could threaten hopes of a thrilling ODI climax with a 60% chance of thunderstorms forecast for SuperSport Park just off a highway that links Johannesburg and Pretoria.

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