No truth like the crowd's boo or cheer
The current transformation/quota crisis in South African cricket has the potential to be infinitely nastier than the first one, which simmered over both the domestic game and the international team for two or three years at the turn of the millennium.
“It could actually discredit the sport in the country,” said a former national administrator known for his commitment to transformation during a decade of service that started just a year after quotas were first formalised at domestic level.
“Although it was hard, we tried to encourage honesty as much as possible. There was a lot of mistrust and unhappiness for the first season and a half, but we encouraged players to be honest with each other and for coaches and administrators to be honest with the players,” the former player-turned-administrator said.
It took exactly a week for Cricket South Africa to dispense some unequivocal honesty when chief executive Haroon Lorgat issued a statement describing as “utter nonsense” the accusation that he or the CSA board had interfered with the Proteas team selection on the eve of the World Cup semifinal against New Zealand.
Lorgat’s tenure and the administration he has assembled has been characterised by honesty and due diligence. That cannot be legitimately questioned. He is beyond reproach when it comes to “process” being followed. One only needs to look at his handling of the potentially disastrous tour of South Africa by the Indian team 15 months ago to know that he does not compromise on principle.
His problem, however, the decade or more of disingenuity and occasionally downright dishonesty that preceded him. Cricket supporters and even players have been swallowed up in the conspiracy of silence in which selection issues have often drowned. No wonder it is hard to know what the truth is. If Lorgat didn’t remind coach Russell Domingo of his duty to include four players of colour in the starting line-up, it’s highly probable that someone else did. And even that Lorgat was unaware of it.
No qualification was required to see that a rusty Vernon Philander’s inclusion in the starting XI ahead of the in-form and highly effective Kyle Abbott in Auckland lacked cricketing logic. When Philander bowled poorly and then left the field for treatment to the troublesome hamstring, which had plagued him throughout the tournament, the decision looked like pure folly.
The fear now is that the mistrust experienced by both players and supporters will carry forward to the start of next season when racial quotas will be increased at domestic level to six players of colour, three of whom must be black African. The irony is that the six franchises are trying desperately to make the new measures work.
“How we effectively address the imbalances in our game is not a simple or straightforward issue,” says Titans chief executive Jacques Faul. “There is strong motivation for change, and for it to be accelerated. If you don’t buy into it, you get left behind.”
Are there enough players of sufficient ability to go around? Can the new regulations genuinely be implemented?
“It’s amazing what happens when you are faced with a challenge. It is one of our strengths as a nation. Last year, when we really needed someone, we had Junior Dala bowling at 140km an hour for us. Fantastic attitude, well conditioned, hard-working … we are very proud of him,” Faul told the Mail & Guardian.
‘No place to hide’
“We have stepped up our talent identification programme to try to be ready for next season. Once it comes to batting and bowling at franchise level, there is no protection, no place to hide. And there is no greater truth than the cheer or boo of the crowd,” Faul said. “We have to get it right. We have no choice.”
It would be an extraordinary achievement for franchises like the Titans and Knights to identify and prepare three black African players. And if they can, they will have to keep them fit and in-form for the entire season, which would be even more extraordinary. Impossible, in fact.
“It is a pity that the regulations were changed so close to the end of the contracting period. We had just about finished assembling our squad when the changes were announced. We could all have planned better with more notice,” Faul admitted.
There will be pain. Some careers will be lost, but the hope is that others will be found that might never have been discovered. Opportunity is the essence of transformation, and quotas are merely a vehicle to provide it.
It is ironic that Lorgat’s predecessor, Gerald Majola, said in 2008 that quotas were a short-term measure to speed up the process of change. He said he hoped they would be “phased out” within three years – in other words, by 2011. Four years after that goal, they are being increased.
Enormous skill and sensitivity are now required from Lorgat, CSA president Chris Nenzani and a board that, many believe, is still intransigent and out of touch despite recent restructuring. If they really believe this is a colour issue, they may be in for a nasty surprise. No sportsmen enjoy working in an unstable and unhappy environment. It doesn’t matter where they come from.
Cricketers, in particular, are a proud bunch. They don’t just want to know they are required for their prowess with bat and ball, they need to.