The Sri Lankans do not possess a single match-turning bowler in their Test ranks and they arrived in the country having not been paid for seven months by an administration even more dysfunctional than South Africa’s. They are ripe for the taking and should be hammered by the Proteas in both the Test matches, with the first starting on Thursday, and the ODIs, even if Lasith Malinga remains fit.
The Sri Lankans have two of the finest batsmen of their generation in the world in Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, a supremely gifted all-rounder in Angelo Matthews and a group of young, ambitious bowlers led by a wise old head in Dilhara Fernando. But expectation levels have rarely been lower in Sri Lanka. The players have nothing to lose, which makes them extremely dangerous and the Proteas ripe for an embarrassing upset.
Ah, the glorious uncertainty of sport, especially cricket. That is why people keep coming back and the game will always be there, no matter who tries to administer it and how much of a cock-up they make of it. Hopefully, anyway.
At least, that is what they are relying on because, if they looked a little more honestly at the state of the game, they would see how adversely it has been affected in the past two years.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive Gerald Majola has had more than 40 press releases sent out on his behalf this season: condolences to bereaved cricketing families, good luck to the Springboks in New Zealand, promises of full cooperation with ministerial inquiries and even congratulations to Oregan Hoskins on being appointed vice-president of the International Rugby Board.
There was even a self-congratulatory and triumphant declaration that neither an internal audit, headed by CSA’s own deputy president, who is without a shred of accounting experience, nor an external one by audit firm KPMG had discovered any “missing millions”. That original allegation was so spurious it was not even included in either inquiry’s terms of reference.
But there were no statements about Majola’s habit of using the cricket body’s in-house travel agent as a personal facility for his family. Not a shred of regret, let alone contrition or an apology, for being asked to pay back R28 000 to his employers for air tickets for his wife and children.
And not a word of explanation, let alone regret or apology, to the nation’s cricket-lovers about the scheduling of a two-Test series against Australia earlier this season. No admission that the board’s priorities were to maximise potential revenue from the domestic Champions League and to appease their big brothers at the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Also no admission that, even allowing for that scheduling, more than enough time existed to play three Tests against the Aussies in South Africa. Instead, a second T20 was played. It was cricket prostitution on a commercial scale.
The ability to understand the Companies Act, or even be aware of its existence, or to have a serviceable grasp of business ethics (let alone to know who Mervin King is), might not have been seen as important to Majola when he was appointed more than a decade ago, but he might have reconsidered it when CSA evolved into a multimillion-dollar business.
Even so, the ability to see basic right from wrong should not have been affected by his extended tenure at the helm of the local game.
Having negotiated a bonus from the Indian Premier League (IPL) for accepting their request to host the tournament at short notice, and then not disclosing that bonus, it seems peculiar that Majola thought nothing of paying himself and his staff a second bonus from CSA’s own coffers.
Oh well. Perhaps he and his meticulously chosen board are right. Perhaps it really does not matter. The game has been around for more than two centuries and international cricket for more than 130 years. It has even been played on these shores for almost 120 years. Anything that has lasted that long is not likely to be in jeopardy now. Surely? We will see.
Sponsors have fled in the aftermath of the bitterness and rancour. It started when Majola petulantly removed international fixtures from the Wanderers, headquarters of the game, as “punishment” for their questioning of his conduct during the 2009 IPL. After sponsors, perhaps, come supporters. Hopefully they will still see good reason to pay their money and file through the turnstiles. But the people are not stupid and they will not continue — in the long-term — to support a product or a system that is compromised.
In the short term, there is plenty to be excited about. The Proteas batting line-up is the strongest in the world — yes, including India’s and England’s — and Dale Steyn in full flight is worth the entrance money alone, even for a single spell. Morné Morkel is not far behind in value for money.
For those with a morbid fascination, there is the prospect of watching Mark Boucher fight for his career. If and when he saves it, that will be worth double the highest ticket price.