/ 17 June 2008

Cricket row simmers in the Cape

A storm has erupted over a report in the tabloid, Sondag, which quoted Cape Cobras coach Shukri Conrad as saying three Proteas players were not good enough to play for the Cobras.

The players — Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Ashwell Prince — and the South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca) have reacted angrily to the remarks, but Conrad has denied having made the comments in the first place.

”I was very upset with the tone of the report and the way in which it was written,” Conrad said on Tuesday. ”The journalist involved has phoned me to apologise, and I expect an apology from the newspaper as well.”

The row started when Kallis and Boucher, who had signed contracts to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL), were told they need not return to South Africa to play for the Cobras in their Standard Bank semifinal against the Titans in April.

Prince, who did not play in the IPL, was not included in the Cobras team, but Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs were asked to return to South Africa for the match and miss their first IPL games.

Conrad was approached for comment after Kallis, Boucher and Prince announced that they were leaving the Cobras and transferring to the Eastern Cape-based Warriors.

”I was asked whether, in view of the players’ reaction, I would select the same team, and I said I had no qualms about my selection,” said Conrad. ”It would have been a different matter if it had been a four-day or a one-day game.”

”These are some of the best players in the world,” said Tony Irish, Saca’s chief executive. ”So to say that they aren’t good enough is ludicrous. Each of them had also been prepared to travel back from India to play for the Cobras in the Pro20 semifinal and [thus] to miss the first few matches of the IPL, which would have involved a substantial cash penalty. This is how committed they were.

”Putting South African cricketing interests first is a cornerstone principle for our players, so we were very surprised when the Cobras suddenly informed Jacques, Ashwell and Mark that they weren’t required,” said Irish

”The three of us have chatted about Shukri’s statements and we are all angry,” Boucher said. ”There are a number of reasons behind our decision to leave. The fact that we weren’t considered for selection, despite being available, is just the last straw. We are unhappy about a lot of things at the franchise, but when we made the decision to leave we decided to be dignified about it and not to make the reasons public.

”The fact that Shukri sees fit to take cheap shots at us in the media is seriously disappointing. It makes us think that perhaps we should have made our reasons public. I’d also like to set the record straight regarding my past availability.

”It has always been extremely difficult to play for my franchise in a season when there was such a hectic international schedule and I was required to play all three formats of the game for South Africa. So when an opportunity did come up I was fully prepared to put the franchise first and come back from India. To simply be told ‘don’t bother’ is a slap in the face.”

”I’m really disappointed to be leaving Western Province,” said Ashwell Prince. ”I’ve been here for about ten years, but the last few years things have changed and I’m unhappy about staying. The professionalism is not like it used to be.”

”Like Ashwell I’ve been a Western Province man for many years,” said Jacques Kallis. ”I grew up playing here. For Shukri to say that I’m leaving because I wasn’t selected for one game is nonsense. The reasons go much deeper than that.”

Kallis, Prince and Boucher said they had been impressed by their dealings so far with their new franchise.

The row is likely to simmer for some time, and the only person who is happy is Warriors chief executive Dave Emslie. But with another crowded international calendar, it is not clear how many matches the trio will be able to play for their new franchise. — Sapa