ARTHUR: a dark horse

2008-02-16 00:00

ARENDSE said Arthur abused him. Arendse, said Arthur, abused him. It all sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

Has anyone noticed that Arendse is a perfect anagram for “arse end”? Well, they do say that one should use the moniker if it fits, but I have no wish to denigrate a holder of mighty office. In any case, the antics of our cricket officials receive so much space in the media that readers of this paper have had more than enough information to make up their own minds without receiving a helping hand from me.

Given the facts of the latest ructions, I feel that, this time, some of my sympathy lies with poor old Norman. If ever there could have been an occasion to give a break to cricket’s previously disadvantaged, it should be when the team to tour Bangladesh is selected. I see little point in taking our strongest team to a country that is still struggling to make its way in international cricket.

Bangladesh has improved somewhat since its early days on the big stage, but remain locked in the bottom three places in the international rankings. I would have thought that our selectors are weary of seeing our best players overcome the weak teams that have been the offerings of this summer. By sticking so rigidly to more or less the same squad, the selectors have denied themselves the chance to see which of the next tier of players, if any, is ready for selection.

I, too, would have liked to see Monde Zondeki play in the Test matches against Bangladesh. It is a shame for him that he injured himself after a season in which he has shown considerable improvement. A place in the Bangladesh party would have been a reward for his efforts and a chance to see just how far he has come. It is just a little embarrassing for Arendse that he did not know his man was hobbling on crutches when he threw Zondeki’s hat into the ring.

Duminy is clearly a player of the future, but that future seems slow in coming. The sooner he has a chance to match his talents with others in the Test team, the better it will be for him and the future of the national team. It is better to blood him now rather than in an emergency against the stronger teams.

Duminy could have been slotted into the Test team simply by resting Boucher for the Bangladesh trip and asking AB de Villiers to keep wicket. With a tough year ahead of him, Boucher might have appreciated a paid sabbatical. He advertises his desire to play more golf. Perhaps the selectors should have cleared his calendar for him to do just that, whilst his mates are playing cricket in Bangladesh.

Good selectors look further ahead than the immediate tours. I have a feeling that the statistically minded players put pressure on the coach and captain, who form part of the section panel, to keep the same squad together for the Bangladesh tour. Modern cricketers, so conscious of their place in the numbers game, have never been averse to picking up cheap runs and wickets. Money, too, is a consideration, but selectors should always have the longer view in mind.

So, it is fair to say that Arendse might have had an argument on pure cricket grounds.

Unfortunately, he chose to dress his reasoning under the cloak of transformation, which has become such an emotive issue. Arendse describes himself as “unashamedly pro transformation”. This is pretty well straight from the Percy Sonn textbook on how to get up the noses of white cricketers. One has to understand where a man like Arendse comes from, but once in the office of the CSA presidency he has a responsibility to all cricketers, irrespective of colour or creed.

What Arendse should have done is to have had a quiet word with the selectors before they chose the team to tour Bangladesh. If the selectors — as was their right — had decided to ignore his arguments, they would be aware that Arendse would have his say when the appropriate time came for the evaluation of their performance.

There is no point in appointing people to positions of trust and then not allowing them to carry out their duties as they see fit. Looking over shoulders is not conducive to good performance by any party. Good communication consists of building trust and putting one’s own vulnerabilities at the mercy of another’s decisions and actions. Unfortunately trust is a commodity in short supply within cricket’s corridors of power.

Arendse has attempted to place his own priorities ahead of those of the selectors, who chose to thwart him. His reaction has been to lash out at Mickey Arthur, with whom he clearly had an unpleasant spat. Just what Joubert Strydom, the convener of the selectors, was doing while the two were trading abuse, we don’t know. It appears that in the absence of any leadership from him, it was Mickey Arthur and Graeme Smith who took on CSA’s president. In the court of public opinion Smith is a more difficult customer to deal with than Arthur, so Arendse went for the coach.

Sadly, for the president, he has miscalculated. He has emerged looking like an incompetent bully who has been sent to his corner by the paid help. Arthur, on the other hand, has revealed himself to be made of sterner stuff than many of us imagined. He and his fellow selectors may be guilty of not thinking far enough ahead, but it is about time some one stood up to the petty bureaucrats who run our sport. For this alone Mickey Arthur deserves our admiration. His reward is the team of his choice, but he will know the battle is not over.

I am afraid that there will be no end to these debilitating rows until our teams are selected in accordance with the one criterion that everyone understands, and that is merit selection. As long as any form of discrimination is practised, someone at least will have reason to feel aggrieved. Tensions will continue to flare up amongst coaches, players and administrators. With the current cast running South African cricket, one can be sure that this unhappy show will run and run.

The relationship between Arendse and Majola, testy from the start, must be close to fracturing if it is not already bust. It is tempting to wonder if anybody really cares if they slit each other’s throats, but the fact is that the good of the game requires a decent working relationship between the president and CSA’s chief executive. It might be wise for Arendse, at least, to spend the next year lying very close to the ground, if not underneath it.

The real cause for concern, however, is that so few players of any colour, black or white, are suggesting themselves for selection to the national team. The easy part is the selection of the best players. The average punter in the bar of the Victoria Club will attest to that. Ensuring that there is a steady stream of good cricketers coming through the system is the hard part. This should be the focus of our administrators, rather than the pointless elbow wrestling that we have witnessed this past fortnight.

•Ray White is a former UCB president.

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