Players look ahead, board stuck in the past
Just when it seemed safe to go back into the water, the administrative sharks have returned to South African cricketing waters.
The new structure of the Cricket South Africa board has been questioned just days before its scheduled ratification on Saturday and the gloomy days of personal agendas and politicking appear to have returned.
On Wednesday and Thursday the gloom hung like a fire blanket over all those who had fought so hard to rebuild the game's reputation among fans and sponsors. A determination to press for independence on the board and transparent operational structures was counterweighted by the despondency conveyed by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee's intervention, leading to the postponement of Saturday's annual general meeting.
The vitriol and bile generated by just a few soon-to-be-made-irrelevant board members and the power of their political contacts has led to the postponement of the future – indefinitely.
Perhaps it was always too much to hope for that a dozen self-serving, self-interested, provincially inclined amateurs would sanction a streamlined board of directors, 50% of whom would be independent.
The Nicholson inquiry into financial mismanagement under former chief executive Gerald Majola recommended the changes. In the face of overwhelming public and corporate support, the board could hardly say no. Its members were implicated in Majola's fiduciary failures.
Sceptics and cynics
But the power and the gravy on offer for those addicted to it is hard to turn away. Surely, not only the sceptics and cynics will find it curious that the ship of reform was scuppered at such late notice.
What will be, will be. There will be some furious scrummaging for power in the days to come. If you are a Boland man, a North West man, a Gauteng man or a Free State man (or woman), then back your province and your representative. If you are predominantly a supporter of South African cricket, then think about the big picture painted by retired judge Chris Nicholson, the one that looked at the long-term wellbeing of the local game.
The Champions League T20 has been yet another triumph of logistical and good-spirited South African hospitality. It was never supposed to be held in this country, but the nation deserves to feel proud once again of its ability to host such tournaments at short notice. And those who do it deserve bonuses – provided that they are declared.
Whatever happens to the Titans and Lions in the semifinals, their success in reaching that stage should never be forgotten by the players, coaches and supporters. It should signal, finally, the end to South African cricket's inferiority complex. The process began four years ago with the Proteas' first series win in Australia after 100 years of trying and this tournament should be the full stop. No more thinking "we'll do well to just compete".
Graeme Smith expressed that sentiment earlier this week when he spoke of his "excitement" over the fact that his team would be regarded as favourites ahead of the three-Test series against Australia, starting in Brisbane in two weeks'.
"We will arrive in Australia with a real expectation of success and that's not something we shy away from. We are proud of that expectation and as a team we should be. It doesn't mean to say that we will win – this Australian team is exceptionally talented. But we are confident."
Smith led his team to the summit of world cricket before, four years ago. They barely had time to gain a foothold, let alone enjoy the view, before they crashed and tumbled. It has taken that long to climb back.
"This is the next big step for us after the series victory in England. That gave us the number one world ranking; we took it off England. We were there briefly before and lost it.
"The same could happen again. We know that reaching the summit is not the 'great' achievement, because we fell off pretty quickly last time. Staying there is the achievement. This is our greatest test."
Previous South African teams have been daunted by touring Australia, and rightly so. In the preceding century none had ever won there before Smith's team. Now he goes as the first captain from these shores with the weight of expectation on his shoulders, rather than just hope.
"That's really exciting. I go there as a leader on one level, but as a team member on another. We are all incredibly excited. We back each other and believe in one another. There's a large number of the squad who know what it's like to play in Australia and succeed, whereas before we went in the knowledge that no South African team had won there in 100 years. There's certainly not going to be that element of 'what if' doubt that may have hampered us before," Smith said.
"There was a doubt before, naturally, but this time there are no doubts about whether we can go there and do well. We proved that to ourselves four years ago. We can match Australia and if we perform to the levels we are capable of, then we can be victorious. But it's not something that's going to come easy and it's going to be a very big challenge for us," Smith said.
If the Lions or the Titans advance to the Champions League final and the Proteas retain their number one Test ranking, the game and its players may never look backwards again. Provided, of course, they do not look back at the national administrators.