Back to work for the Proteas

2011-10-08 00:00

IT’S been a long time since South Africa played a cricket match. Indeed, the team has not taken to the field since the last week in March. It was a painful day that began well and inexorably deteriorated. Defeat was inevitable long before the last wicket fell. Much could be told from the faces of the players. The same expressions had been seen on that ill-fated night in Durban in 2003 when the host nation disastrously misread the Duckworth Lewis requirements.

The Proteas have had plenty of time to contemplate that quarter-final loss to the Kiwis in Dhaka, and to get over the disappointment. Alas, the team was poorly chosen and suffered from a wobbly middle order and a weak bladder. World cup tournaments have a way of revealing strengths and exposing frailties. Let’s hope the Boks are not found wanting.

Anyhow, the Proteas will be relieved to get back to work. Their season begins on Thursday with a Twenty20 match against the Aussies. Another of the same ilk follows a few days later, then come three ODIs and finally two Tests. Next the Sri Lankans will play four Tests over the summer holidays. It’s a full programme and ought to give the game a lift.

Not that the winter has been uneventful. It saw a power struggle between the progressive and dubious elements in South African cricket. The outcome has been two steps forwards and one leap backwards.

On the upside, as economists are inclined to put it (although the phrase has not been much used of late), the team is in better hands. Gary Kirsten was the right choice as coach. He is firm, tends to use his eyes and ears more than his mouth, understands struggle, respects hard work and knows the game ancient and modern. That he is a past Test player and a local helps, but the main thing was to get the best man for the job. Cricket SA did that.

By the look of things Kirsten also has an acute sense of timing. India flourished on his watch, but have hardly won a game since he left. Now things are so bad that debate rages about which will come first, an Indian Test win or Schabir Shaik’s passing. It could be a close-run thing.

AB de Villiers was the right choice to lead the one-day side and the only regret is that he was not also put in charge of the Test team. His partnership with Kirsten will work because of the contrast in their characters and their mutual respect. Smith seemed to regard his coaches with the affection Greeks reserve for taxmen.

De Villiers is ready to take over the Test side, but presumably officials wanted to give him a little time to play himself in. Captaincy does change a fellow’s life. Apparently only the arrival of a baby has as much impact, and in that case the male is playing a secondary role. Happily De Villiers has bags of energy.

Hashim Amla is perfectly suited to the vice captaincy as well, and can step in to take over the leadership whenever the boss is injured, as is currently the case. Amla will be a superb deputy because he is discreet and humble and does not aspire to the main job. Mind you, everyone said that about our beloved deputy president. Still it is wonderful that an Afrikaner from Affies and an Indian boy from Durban can hold the top two positions in the national team. Anyone not regarding that as a miracle of sorts has a short memory.

Alas, it has not all been boerwors and beer this winter. Off the field CSA has endured several convulsions, all of them self-inflicted. Plain and simple, the CEO and other responsible people were found with their hands in the till. As much was confirmed by the independent audit reluctantly ordered after the high court overturned the ditching of the CSA chairperson.

Gerald Majola, the CEO, misused funds not least by flying his family hither and thither, and failed to inform his employers that he had been given a fat bonus by the IPL organisers. Accordingly, CSA likewise awarded huge ex-gratia payments. Some of the money was dispersed. Incredibly, CSA has pursued not the culprits but the whistleblower (the chairperson). Of course the corruption is deplorable, but the true disgrace is that no action was taken beyond giving Majola a severe reprimand, a thrashing with a feather duster. So much for accountability. But then nothing is new.

Presidents and prime ministers went to war over weapons of mass destruction and remained intact when no nasty weapons are found. Tens of thousands of people died.

Let’s hope the cricket is compelling enough to push such dark thoughts to the back of the mind. If anything can, sport can.

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