While an altogether deeper challenge is currently engulfing the planet, there are at least some hopeful signs of renewed clarity and purpose in the much-publicised corridors of Cricket South Africa (CSA).
Whenever the coronavirus crisis ends - or at least to the extent that most major professional sport is able to get back in business to a meaningful degree - CSA should be a lot closer to hitting the ground at very least “trotting”, albeit against the backdrop of considerable ongoing financial stresses, than might have been expected several months ago in the midst of their multi-tentacled meltdown.
They have been making the right sort of noises for fresh, much-needed luring of sponsors and the delicate re-wooing of disgruntled supporters, a situation probably only enhanced by the short- to medium-term intentions outlined on Tuesday by acting CEO Jacques Faul and acting director of cricket Graeme Smith.
Perhaps the most heartening development was the firm likelihood that iconic former national captain Smith will be nailed down permanently to his key post in a matter of days.
With the words “acting” and “interim” floating around far too liberally in the wake of the administrative shambles that was the closing phase of now-muzzled CEO Thabang Moroe’s unfortunate tenure, giving CSA the ominous look of some sort of wobbling parastatal in the country, the beefy opening batsman taking directorship charge to the fullest degree will be a great start to the desired clean-up.
There were concerns, not without reason, when Smith first agreed – after a spell of “will he, won’t he?” matching the tenseness of a last-over finish – to step in very early in the new year over how he would handle the more business-related angles to his job.
Yet the 39-year-old quickly enough started to demonstrate, I believe, the kind of bullishness, drive and bluntness that so often marked his accumulation of 17,236 cross-format international runs: not always pretty, frequently highly effective.
He is almost “Australian” in his square-jawed, no-frills way of dealing with things, and yes, that is meant as a compliment.
I don’t believe he will be mortified by mistakes, simply correcting them where necessary as if plugging a hole in the field where runs have leaked a little too easily for a while.
Smith is set now to figuratively knuckle down properly in a different capacity at the crease … and we all know the likely cost to foes when that happens.
Faul? He is probably not going anywhere else in a special hurry, either, his own potential ascension to more formal status as CEO understandably blocked at present primarily by the sensitivity and procedural requirements surrounding the ongoing inquiry into suspended Moroe.
Just as importantly the transparent, advertising process for several important permanent national team berths, both men’s and women’s, is imminent.
They include, among others, men’s convenor of selectors, women’s head coach and immediate back-ups, and the far from unimportant slot, either, of a properly-embedded coach for the SA ‘A’ outfit.
CSA served notice on Tuesday that incumbents would be welcome to reapply, and there could be one or two reasonably justifiable survivors.
Purely on the grounds of glaringly unflattering returns in the win column, however, Lawrence Mahatlane (he’s had a generous run, since replacing Ray Jennings in 2014) should not be a heavy bet for clinging to his position as SA under-19 chief mastermind.
Mahatlane is known to be well liked and respected by several SA cricketers who have gone on to notable personal achievements at the premier level, but that cannot mask the fact that the “junior Proteas” have had an awful time of it results-wise for a protracted period under his charge.
Things came to a gradual head when the team first suffered the obscene fate of a 0-7 ODI home series reverse to Pakistan in the middle of 2019, and then non-qualification for the advanced (last four) knockout stages of the SA-hosted latest edition of the ICC U19 World Cup.
South Africa were beaten by Afghanistan even in the playoff for lowly seventh place, a second reverse to those opponents at the tournament, and there can be no glossing over the crying need for a dramatic resurrection of the country’s once-formidable fortunes at this level.
Still, it does seem the current powers that be have identified areas of frailty across the spectrum; the new broom is being put to increasingly productive use even if plenty of lingering dust is yet to settle.
Now we simply wait, with a gradually mounting sense of eagerness rather than prior trepidation, for some pitches to be prepared for play, wherever South Africa’s major teams or players may do so in the coming months …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing