Sport24 asked: How would you assess the current state of South African cricket?
Brian McMillan: After the Proteas’ Test series capitulation in India last October, I remarked that we had hit rock bottom and there was no direction or leadership. It took a number of years to get to where we were but it looks like Mark Boucher and his coaching staff are managing to turn it around. Since Boucher took over as a head coach last December, I have seen a clear-cut improvement in attitude from the players. Boucher along with (director of cricket) Graeme Smith and (CEO) Jacques Faul come from a culture of winning and, under the current regime, it’s all about performance. The Proteas were playing some decent cricket of late and ended off by beating Australia quite nicely in the three-match ODI series. The change in attitude from the players has been great to see but we must remember that we are in a rebuilding phase at the moment, having lost a number of top players. Some of the playing personnel are still finding their feet and hopefully by the time of the next World Cup, which is the pinnacle of cricket, the players will be ready to step up. In my view, the overriding feeling is positive and there is a nucleus of cricketers coming through, which is quite nice. We just need to find some more alpha males, like Aiden Markram, who have enormous talent and can tick it over a bit.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of Cricket South Africa’s current financial woes?
Brian McMillan: Everything revolves around the money side of things and if certain board members are profiteering they must be removed. Simple governance dictates such. I believe that’s why Faul was asked to get involved to make sure that there is implementation of governance around all. If the board members are overriding him then the sponsors need to get involved in voicing their opinions. They have got a brand to protect and if the people who are running Cricket South Africa can’t do it properly then sponsors have to exert some power to initiate it because if there is not enough money in the system you cannot play cricket. I believe a couple of years ago, CSA had R1.4-billion in the coffers and now they are set to record a R654-million loss over the next four-year financial cycle. The fact that a significant loss is predicted tells me that there has been some financial mismanagement. If that was a top business trading on the stock exchange certain people would have been fired immediately. In a CSA context, if some of the men in suits don’t want to vacate their roles out of their own accord, they must just be removed from the board. I feel it’s as simple as that. CSA needs a cleanout and certain board members must go because it should just be about cricket and the advancement of the game.
Sport24 asked: What are the implications of Covid-19 for the embattled organisation?
Brian McMillan: It is the same as in the business world - we are all on the backfoot now and have to wait for this pandemic to end. I think it is more serious than people initially anticipated. For now, we have to take a backseat because we cannot work and move forward until everybody is safe and sound. It will be back to square one when the gates open for us. It will be about improving businesses and cricket but it is hitting us hard. Faul has said that player contracts aren’t going to be slashed and I think it’s a great stance from him. Faul insisted that CSA are covered for this season. (On Tuesday via a videoconference with the media he remarked, “Since we’re in a centralised system‚ we’ve budgeted the amounts and all the Proteas and the franchise players have been budgeted for.” It’s quite noble but I just hope CSA can afford it and the players appreciate it.
Sport24 asked: Do you endorse Graeme Smith as South Africa’s director of cricket?
Brian McMillan: I’m not quite sure what Smith has done behind the scenes since he was officially appointed as director of cricket in December but I’m sure he has added huge value in terms of winning, performance and growing South African cricket as a brand. Smith was a very successful captain for South Africa for quite a few years and there are certain elements in business, administration and sport that coincide. One thing is certain, the grassroots - club and provincial cricket - has to be strengthened and funded in order for this to happen. I don’t want to be one of those armchair critics but during my playing days the South African domestic cricket scene was definitely stronger. Once you have got that your base of cricketers coming through allows for stronger and stronger competition and, as a consequence, it increases the strength of your national side. Dave Richardson (former ICC CEO) can help Faul and Smith in implementing the right structures in the country. (Richardson’s mandate, having come on board as a consultant, is to form a steering committee to make recommendations on the future structure of South African domestic cricket). ‘Swinger’ obviously has vast experience from his time as an administrator with the ICC and will add real value… We want to be number one in the world again and if there are obstacles in the way they must be removed in order for us to move forward.
Sport24 asked: What is your view when it comes to transformation in the sport?
Brian McMillan: The topic of transformation is a touchy one but I think the process has been happening for a long time. Transformation in South Africa is fantastic and I think we all need it. Players of colour are good enough to play and achieve in the Proteas side (which they already have) and to label them ‘quotas’ is crazy. There is not one token player of colour representing South Africa and I think they all deserve their positions. The sooner we get rid of the ‘quotas’ term, which is discriminatory, out of fashion and unjustified, the better. I have absolutely been impressed with the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi. There is no doubt they are stars and I have also been pretty impressed with Temba Bavuma as well. I think he should stay in the number three spot in the batting order and be coached to freely expressive himself. Meanwhile, Keshav Maharaj is a fantastic spinner but work can be done on his batting. For me, he has the ability to become a bowling allrounder, which we are lacking. This has been a potential issue for many a year. In my playing days, we had the likes of Jacques Kallis, Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock and myself. I think this role has diminished slightly and we have also missed a trick with certain players, who could have been developed into bowling all-rounders.
Sport24 asked: What stands out as your biggest low from your Proteas career?
Brian McMillan: My biggest disappointment would be never winning the World Cup. What sticks in my mind is the 1992 World Cup and needing 22 runs off one ball. (McMillan tapped Chris Lewis’ last ball for a single and set off for the pavilion looking irate during the Duckworth-Lewis method-affected match). I wouldn’t say that the class of 1999 was the strongest Proteas side and the closest we have come to winning the World Cup. The 1992 and 1996 teams were also pretty good and, given the opportunity and some fortune favouring us, I feel we could have won three World Cups. I think it’s bad form from some critics to say that our cricketers have an inability to get over the final hurdle. To win a World Cup you need a little bit of luck off the back of performance. We have come close on a number of occasions but we also have to take into account that there are quite a few good teams at ICC-sanctioned events and winning a World Cup tournament is never a given… In terms of the T20 World Cup, which is set to be played in Australia this October, I don’t think South Africa will be a walkover by any stretch of the imagination and I predict it’s going to be a competitive tournament. England and India, who we have drawn in our group, are tough competitors and we will have to play well to advance. We need to take each game as it comes and, in order to win the trophy, you must beat the top sides.
Sport24 asked: Are you in favour of AB de Villiers making a T20 international return?
Brian McMillan: I would absolutely be in favour of AB de Villiers making a comeback to South Africa’s T20 side with the T20 World Cup in mind. He has been quoted as saying that, “I'm thinking of throwing my name in the hat and hoping that everything will work out.” It would be fantastic to see De Villiers in the green and gold again and I believe that we need to get him back as quickly as possible. For me, the 36-year-old is one of the greatest ever cricketers from South Africa. What I like most about him is his attitude, performances and winning way. Everything about De Villiers epitomises class and his winning way is rounded off with enjoyment.
Sport24 asked: Has the game become over-sanitized by players towing the party line?
Brian McMillan: Today’s rules and regulations don’t allow for real characters in the game anymore. The Allan Border incident has been written about many times but one thing is that the Australians obviously didn’t do military service because Shane Warne said I walked into their change room in 1994 with an AK-47 when it was actually a 9mm Parabellum. It was quite something to see the whites of Allan Border and the other Aussies’ eyes when I playfully walked in with a weapon. If a current player pulled the same stunt they would be locked up. The rules have really blunted characters to come through. In the old days, I remember us having a couple beers in the opposition change room as well but nowadays I don’t think the blokes often share a beer, which is sad. The whole fun part of playing sport is about meeting people and building friendships across the globe. The rules are the rules, which is what the ICC wants, but for me it’s crazy as we need those characters in the game.