Its richer with Richards

2007-11-24 00:00

NOW that my privileges have been withdrawn, I have spent more time than usual watching local Test match cricket in front of a television set. This means that I have had to endure or enjoy the various commentators as they have gone about their business of “calling” cricket matches. As I listened to those gentlemen on both the channels that broadcast the cricket the first thing that occurred to me was how much I missed the expert comments of Barry Richards.

Just why SuperSport saw fit to terminate the services of Richards is beyond reasonable understanding, but by doing so the pay television channel has robbed its viewers of one of the best TV commentators in world cricket. Richards has always surprised me with the depth of his insight into the game and his ability to read what was and what should be going on out in the middle. Much of his knowledge was gathered during his career as one of the finest batsmen ever to play the game, but he has added to his understanding of cricket an ability to deliver his trenchant views concisely and with good humour.

One would have thought that SuperSport would have been delighted to have such an eminent and articulate former cricketer in their stable of commentators, but for reasons removed from the obvious in any country but South Africa, Richards has been given notice that his services would no longer be required. As I understand it, Richards was informed that he no longer fitted the required profile of being a younger, recently retired South African Test cricketer.

In the political speak that inhabits local cricket this meant that Springbok cricketers of the apartheid era, having enjoyed the unfair advantage of a white skin, are now beyond the pale even in terms of working for SuperSport. It is irrelevant that Richards, himself, would have walked into any team of any age anywhere in the world so gifted a batsman was he. His ability owed nothing to his pigmentation.

It is also arguable that Richards was one of cricket’s most unfortunate victims of apartheid. It is one of the game’s saddest stories that Richards played just four Test matches before the curtain fell on his international career. Had Richards and Graeme Pollock had full careers in Test cricket, I have no doubt that they would have established a list of records that would have lasted deep into this century. It is bad enough that the two of them have been shunned by the local cricket establishment without SuperSport now depriving Richards of the chance to earn a crust in this country.

It is ironic that SuperSport continues to employ Robin Jackman, the former England cricketer who now lives in Cape Town. Jackman spent several apartheid years playing for Rhodesia and Western Province at the same time that Richards played for Natal. I have nothing against Jackman, who is one of the better commentators of the current crop, but most South Africans would, I am certain, prefer listening to the more erudite and entertaining Richards. Jackman hardly qualifies as a recently retired South African cricketer and in terms of age, he is younger than Barry by just 23 days.

The truth, I am afraid, is that Richards was too outspoken for the mandarins at SuperSport. He never made any secret of his belief that the quota system was damaging to South African cricket. Presumably, such frankness did not sit well with CSA and the bosses of SuperSport, who have always been anxious not to jeopardise their relationship with cricket’s apparatchiks.

The outcome is that the cricket scene in South Africa is poorer for the loss of Richards. I hope that the same fate has not befallen Darryl Cullinan, who has given every indication that he could develop into an outstanding television commentator. Like Richards, he has combined his experience as a top class Test cricketer with a keen sense of observation and an interesting turn of phrase.

For a reason, which I trust is not sinister, Cullinan has, thus far, been absent from our screens this season. Cullinan was not a shrinking violet on the field and his career was marked by a troublesome relationship with authority off it. He is not the type of character to back off any issue on which he holds strong views. In the current climate one imagines that a character like Cullinan will always be dancing on ice but one hopes that he is sufficiently savvy to skirt trouble long enough to keep us entertained and informed for many years.

On a slightly different note, during the second Test match it was sad to hear Tony Cozier’s comments about West Indies cricket. For long the lilting and optimistic voice of the game in the Caribbean, Cozier sounded utterly depressed. If one listened carefully to what he was saying, it seems that the glory days of West Indies cricket might be gone forever. The game, he said, has lost its attraction for the youth of the islands, facilities are poor, despite the recent World Cup and the generation that might have saved cricket is running out of time and energy.

Cricket needs a revived West Indies more than ever. For half a century the Windies had the world’s most charismatic and entertaining team. A small population contrived to produce a stream of exceptional cricketers that culminated in a sustained period in which the Windies dominated all their rivals. Brian Lara was the last great player off that production line, which has now been silent for nearly 20 years.

According to Cozier, there will be no evidence of any revival in the squad that is about to arrive in this country for a three-Test tour and the usual one-day circus. This is bad news for those who wish to see the promising South African team put to the test. It is worse news for the world game in which there are now no more than a handful of decent international cricket teams. The South African team is one of them, but the fare on offer this summer is not meaty enough to excite any appetite let alone fill our grounds, which is another reason why TV needs Richards.

•Ray White is a former UCB president.

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