Proteas

OPINION | Unsettled Cricket South Africa crying out for consistent, united leadership

Graeme Smith (Gallo)
Graeme Smith (Gallo)
  • Cricket South Africa's leadership has endured a difficult few weeks as uncertainty surrounding the future of the organisation grows.
  • Director of cricket Graeme Smith was left red-faced after the postponement of the Solidarity Cup. 
  • CSA has also been forced into distancing head coach Mark Boucher from its 3-Team Cricket product, denying a conflict of interest.

On June 16 - Youth Day in South Africa - Cricket South Africa (CSA) made president Chris Nenzani available for a rare press briefing.

The main item on the agenda was an update on the disciplinary process of Thabang Moroe after the suspended CEO made headlines by arriving at work at the CSA headquarters in Johannesburg on June.

Moroe was suspended by Nenzani and the CSA board in December last year - that announcement was the last time Nenzani gave a press conference - on allegations of misconduct. Six months after that suspension, though, Moroe had still not sat in front of a disciplinary committee, so on the advice of his legal team, he returned to work.

An image of Moroe at the gates of the CSA offices sparked confusion from the cricketing community and that night the organisation was forced to re-iterate that Moroe remained suspended.

It was unfortunate, Nenzani said at the press briefing, that Moroe's disciplinary process had not been wrapped up six months after the initial suspension, but reaching finality was considered a matter of urgency.

As media launched questions Nenzani's way during that video press briefing, one of the onlookers in the 'room' was acting CSA CEO Jacques Faul, who has stood in for Moroe since December.

Faul never applied for the CEO job and was instead asked by the CSA board to step in during their time of crisis in December and he was unveiled by Nenzani just four days before it was confirmed that Graeme Smith had accepted the director of cricket (DOC) job.

Mark Boucher was then confirmed as coach of the men's national side, and suddenly South African cricket had a very different look and feel to it.

Concerns over the all-white nature of the new leadership were raised, but given the turmoil the organisation found itself in towards the end of the Moroe era when Standard Bank dropped its R80 million per year sponsorship, this was about little more than the brand surviving.

Since then, Faul and Smith have been largely lauded for their operational resurrection of CSA, with the organisation's once-strained relationship with the South African Cricketers' Association (SACA) now fully functional again at an operational level.

The performances of the men's national side under Boucher - he has also included Jacques Kallis, Charl Langeveldt and Paul Harris on his coaching panel - were also considered to have shown signs of rebirth in the limited overs summer series against England and Australia before the coronavirus lockdown.

A new era of South African cricket had been born and there was just a semblance of positivity starting to creep back into the game.

Over the last month or so, however, there have been several puzzling and easily avoidable developments that have extinguished some of the optimism that had been restored by the Smith/Faul partnership.

At that Nenzani press briefing, Faul took one question right at the end of a session that ran for well over an hour long when he emphasised the importance of "the next two weeks" for CSA.

Faul's fear, shared by SACA, was that the uncertainty surrounding the CEO position would scare away potential sponsors and investors at a time when cricket and all sport in the country is desperate for assistance and reassurance that it can navigate a way forward.

On 21 May during another virtual press briefing with South African journalists, Smith had raised eyebrows when, unprompted, he gave his full backing to India's Sourav Ganguly to become the next chairperson of the ICC.

Later that night, CSA had to distance themselves from Smith's comment, making it clear that he could not speak on behalf of the organisation. It was the softest slap on the wrists for a man whose influence in South African cricket has been steadily increasing since he accepted the DOC job.

Cricket in the country, as opposed to soccer and rugby, had largely sidestepped the worst effects of the coronavirus crisis given that the domestic season was almost over when the pandemic first hit and much of the national lockdown has been spent in what would have been the off-season.

When sports minister Nathi Mthethwa announced towards the end of May that, under Level 3 of the national lockdown, non-contact professional sport could resume in South Africa, cricket had a unique opportunity to be the first of the country's major three codes to return to television.

Smith, who had spoken about his desire for a new-look South African cricket product, then sat alongside Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada and AB de Villiers on 17 June as CSA and a number of investors launched 3TC - 3-Team Cricket - and a tournament called the Solidarity Cup that was to be staged at Centurion on 27 June.

Businessman Paul Harris (not related to former SA spinner Paul Harris) was revealed as the mastermind behind the new format while former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar was unveiled as the CEO of 3TC. English commentator Mark Nicholas confirmed that he, too, was an investor in the product.

While there was no commercial value attached to the 27 June exhibition match - all funds would go to the national coronavirus relief fund and a cricket hardship fund - it was made clear that there could be long-term commercial benefits and SuperSport was confirmed and advertised as the broadcaster for the event.

There was also a headline sponsor in mobile network company rain while Takealot, OUTsurance and Mr Delivery were unveiled as team sponsors.

Smith was asked, more than once, if he was certain that the tournament had obtained full government approval to go ahead, especially given that Centurion is in a coronavirus hotspot zone. He was adamant that "everything had been approved".

That weekend, the match was postponed.

Faul acknowledged to Sport24 later that CSA had perhaps been a little "ambitious" in their efforts to stage the Solidarity Cup so soon, but it could not detract from the fact that the CSA leadership, and Smith in particular, had dropped the ball.

To make matters worse, CSA was then forced to release a statement on Tuesday evening distancing Boucher from being an investor in 3TC. The Proteas head coach investing in a product that CSA is actively trying to commercialise would be an obvious conflict of interest.

CSA says it is in possession of a fraudulent document, which Sport24 has seen, that lists Boucher as one of eight founders and shareholders in 3TC.

An idea that was supposed to be exciting and ground-breaking for South African cricket has become somewhat of an embarrassment for CSA.

Faul himself believes that his contribution as CEO is likely to be temporary in nature, regardless of what happens in Moroe's disciplinary process, and Sport24 understands that his current position is being heavily scrutinised by one of the independent directors on the CSA board.

It is another glaring example of the uncertainty facing the current CSA leadership on all fronts.

Smith, meanwhile, also needs to proceed with caution.

He is a young administrator and his contributions to South African cricket during his playing days make him an obvious asset, but there have been two examples of him perhaps jumping the gun in recent weeks in the cases of the Ganguly backing and then the 3TC launch.

Smith was instrumental in securing a three-match T20 series against India on home soil in August and, along with Faul, he is understood to have gone a long way towards improving relations with the powerful BCCI.

What comes of the Boucher link to 3TC is unclear at this stage, but it should serve as a stern reminder to Smith and CSA that there will be no tolerance of any favours for friends. It didn't take long, after all, following the appointments of Smith, Boucher and Kallis for comparisons to be drawn to the 'old boys' clique' of the 2000s.

Now, more than ever, CSA needs strong, decisive leadership from its president, board, CEO and operational team. They need to be on the same page, pulling together in the same direction to ensure that financial calamity, thought to be on the near horizon by some as a result of the economic impacts of the coronavirus, is avoided.

Dealing with Moroe, one way or the other, would be a good starting point.

* Sport24 had previously incorrectly reported that former Proteas spinner Paul Harris was the founder of 3TC and not Paul Harris, the former CEO of FirstRand Bank and current chairperson of rain. We apologise for the error. 

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