Peter Robinson

Three worrying issues in cricket

2005-02-22 07:51

Three issues have badly dented the equilibrium of world cricket during the past few days.

In London the International Cricket Council suspended Project USA, an initiative to promote international matches in the United States.

In Nairobi the Kenyan Cricket Association was suspended by the Kenyan sports minister and a rival organising body, Cricket Kenya was appointed.

In the Caribbean a report, scathing of the conduct of West Indies players during their recent tour of Australia, was leaked.

None of these developments directly affect South Africa. All, however, might well have an impact on how cricket is played and develops in this country.

Most immediately, the fracas in the West Indies comes just weeks before South Africa head off to the Caribbean. The gist of the row concerns an assessment by Richard Nowell who represented Digicel with the West Indies team in Australia.

"They are (the most) poor ambassadors from any representative team I have come across in my six years, working in seven different sports," Nowell said in his report.

"As sponsorship manager, I am deeply concerned as to the length of the road Digicel needs to travel to begin to gain benefit from their $20m investment."

Private sponsorship deals

Even before the tour two Caribbean heads of state had to step in to defuse a row between the sponsors and the West Indies Players Association, described as a "terrorist" organisation by Nowell.

The row has to do with private sponsorship deals struck by certain players with the previous West Indies sponsors, Cable and Wireless.

If some sort of deal cannot be worked out between the West Indies board, the players' association and the sponsors, who knows what type of team will step out against South Africa in April.

More to the point, if the behaviour of the players so incenses new, and generous, sponsors, what hope is there for a region, and a team, which so recently bestrode world cricket.

Kenya's woes will also sadden South Africans. The east Africans brought a smile to the face of the 2003 World Cup by reaching the semi-finals and demonstrating that exuberance and energy can bring their own rewards.

Then Maurice Odumbe was banned for five years for associating with bookmakers and now two rival bodies contest the ownership of the game in Kenya.

The progress made during the past 20 years has unravelled in less than 24 months.

Poor administration

The problems in the US have to do with mal-administration and are less obviously likely to affect South Africans.

In a letter to the USA Cricket Association, ICC president and chief executive, Ehsan Mani and Malcolm Speed, said: "We have never seen a sporting organisation that combines such great potential and such poor administration as USACA."

The idea behind Project USA was to sell the game in America by taking the best teams in the world to the States. For cricket, the US is the promised land, dollar-rich and with massive television audiences. There are an estimated 5-7 million followers of cricket resident in America, a solid base off which to work.

All this, however, now hangs in the balance.

Which brings us to Zimbabwe, a country whose political and social tragedies are all too well known to South Africans.

Last year the turmoil spilled over into cricket, with a core of experienced white players walking out on their governing body.

Whatever your personal views on the rights and wrongs of the affair, it is now clear that the rebels overestimated the support they would receive from beyond the borders of Zimbabwe, and the team currently in South Africa, made up of young, inexperienced players, is struggling to keep its head above water.

South Africa should wallop Zimbabwe in the three one-day internationals and two Test matches scheduled over the next couple of weeks.

The right thing to do

Even so, South Africa have chosen a strong squad for the ODIs. Jacques Kallis will be rested and Graeme Smith, Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini look likely to play only selected games, but this is nevertheless close to being the best available squad.

This is the right thing to do. The selectors, the captain and the coach have managed to persuade the United Cricket Board that continuity and consistency of selection is necessary and that whatever the problems in Zimbabwe the players, if no one else, deserve respect.

The games might well be mismatches, watched by a handful of spectators, but the obligation of South Africa is to take the matches and the opposition seriously. We have spent some years shooting ourselves in the foot. This time, at least, we appear to be on the side of the angels.

Send your comments to Peter or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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