Cricket development in South Africa — is it succeeding or failing?

2008-09-16 00:00

It appears last week’s column has uncovered a hornet’s nest and my comments expressing genuine concern for the development of cricketers of colour has generated some interesting and mixed response.

On the one hand, there have been rumblings within the cricket circles that a successful development programme is indeed already in place — which, if true, I am pleased to hear. In contrast, I have received requests from concerned Durban-based cricketers asking me not to limit comments to Inland cricket, but to also highlight the inadequacies of the system at Kingsmead.

On a positive note, there has been an enthusiastic response from companies and individuals who have expressed a willingness to get behind the development process and to sponsor individuals and teams who currently do not have the resources to develop their cricket. I have also learnt that one of the Pietermaritzburg clubs has done remarkable work in the development of players who were preciously disadvantaged and this is encouraging news.

The feedback, whether positive or negative, reinforces the fact that people in the KZN midlands are passionate about cricket and this can only be good for the game.

The crucial issue remains, however, that we are still yet to see the real fruits of cricket development from programmes currently in place. Naturally, we are coming through a period of transition, but surely it’s not premature to expect some results.

I have struggled for months to pin down Inland cricket on a date for the next Level One coaching course, without success. Surely this should be a priority.

It’s understandably frustrating for South African cricketers to see other countries producing talented crops of players year after year when we have a wealth of talent still waiting to be developed in our own backyard.

A huge percentage of Cricket South Africa’s money goes towards the important task of development, as it does in other countries like Australia. Unfortunately, the success of these programmes is neither evident nor is it communicated to the public.

Mtutuzeli Nyoka, chairman of the Gauteng Cricket Board, has made his ambition to be the next head of Cricket South Africa quite clear. His philosophy is one which sounds yawningly familiar: “I want to look to the future and want to see us build up South African cricket in the interest of everyone. Everyone must pull together in order to move forward. Obviously developing the game at grass roots level is also a priority.”

It’s uncertain whether Nyoka has succeeded on the development front in his own franchise, so it remains to be seen what he would be able to do on a national level.

In the meantime, the incumbent Norman Arendse has stated that he will not give up his position without a fight and, in his opinion, the Cricket South Africa election on September 26 is illegal. It should be an interesting tussle.

It is this type of public spat, this political in-fighting — which is designed by the protagonists to impress administrators — that frustrates players and the cricket-loving public. They desperately want to see results and get behind a successful team.

It is crucial that proper structures are in place in domestic cricket to grab the enthusiasm and commitment of the cricket-loving public. I have seen such keen commitment from parents who are prepared to coach, score and even umpire to develop the game of cricket in Pietermaritzburg and yet they remain frustrated.

I think our administrators would do well to shelve the squabbling and instead focus on transparency, accountability and the real issues of grassroots cricket development. Only then can we judge whether development programmes in this country are succeeding, or failing.

* Neil Johnson is a former Natal, Zimbabwe and Hamsphire all-rounder who now lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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