The four-person panel appointed to review the Proteas’ performance over the past year, notably the disappointment of the 2015 World Cup and this year’s T20 World Cup, has yet to start its work in earnest as the enormity of the task is slowly digested by all parties.
In the absence of an appointed leader, the final report might well be named after the panel’s most prominent member – the “Pienaar Probe”, perhaps, with due respect to Francois’s fellow panellists Adam Bacher, sports scientist Dr Ross Tucker and Cricket South Africa independent director Dawn Mokhobo.
There are many precedents for such projects in sport, all preceded by losses and underachievement, but the two most pertinent to the South African panel are those carried out by the England Cricket Board (Schofield Report, 2007) and Cricket Australia (Argus Review, 2011). Both were prompted by ugly Ashes series defeats but were equally clear from the outset about what their short-, medium- and long-term objectives were.
The first was chaired by a former commissioner of the European PGA Tour, Ken Schofield, and included six former or current county captains, all of whom also played for England: Micky Stewart, Angus Fraser, Nasser Hussain, Nick Knight, Hugh Morris and Brian Rose.
The report was comprehensive and the ECB adopted 17 of the 19 recommendations with immediate effect. They included rigorous training programmes for those on the fringes of the England team, the “A” team to be given far more gravitas and the slimming down of the domestic playing schedule.
Don Argus, a wealthy businessperson and banker, had a smaller but even more heavyweight panel to work with: Malcolm Speed, the dynamic and hard-hitting former chief executive of both Cricket Australia and the International Cricket Council, as well as two of the country’s most successful captains, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.
They, too, recommended numerous changes to the way the domestic programme was run and to the management and coaching structure of the national team. Again, almost all the recommendations were implemented as soon as possible and the fortunes of both national teams started improving.
Although created by similar cause and common purpose, the two reviews nonetheless followed remarkably similar paths inside similar terms of reference. Both took five months from commission to publication, both were given unprecedented access to both people and documentation, both panels interviewed between 60 and 80 different people, sometimes more than once, and both were expensive.
“The costs of the review are highly confidential but it’s not hard to do the maths,” a source who was closely involved with the Argus Review in a professional capacity told the Mail & Guardian. “Steven [Waugh] and Tubby [Taylor] don’t come cheap – Malcolm is even more expensive, and Argus could probably charge three times all of them. And that’s just their match fees.”
“There was plenty of travel and accommodation, too – and some interviewees quite reasonably asked to be compensated for a day out of the office to take part. The transcription service alone for the interviews was thousands,” the source said.
If there “wasn’t much change from a million dollars” for the Argus Review, the same, apparently, was true for the Schofield Report – in pounds. Does Cricket South Africa have the will to spend in such quantities to improve the structure and, hopefully, the performance and results of the national team?
There is a potential symmetry between Pienaar and CSA that would allow the World Cup-winning Springbok captain the opportunity to work long-term in cricket and lessen his immediate interest in payment now, but the other three panel members may be more reticent in reaching hasty conclusions.
After doing a brilliant job in promoting the 2009 Indian Premier League in South Africa, Pienaar formed his own event management company, Advent Sport Entertainment and Media, which has enjoyed outstanding success with, among others, the Monday-night Varsity Sports franchise. CSA will need a big-hitting promoter for the relaunched, revamped Ram Slam T20 tournament next season, and may be inclined to look favourably on Pienaar’s company for this task.
The M&G source involved in the Argus Review has toured South Africa several times with the Australian team and has interacted with coaches and administrators at national level in this country. He sees other potential difficulties the local review may face. “Let’s say the cost isn’t an issue. Argus and his panel were told that no individual or structure was off limits or sacrosanct, and they questioned everything. It was pretty awkward at times. Does the level of political involvement in South Africa allow for that? You can’t look for answers if you’re restricted by which cupboards you can open.”
In fairness, CSA has already appointed a separate, 13-man committee – including past and present players, coaches, commentators and the Players Association – to investigate the structure of the domestic game so, if Pienaar and his team are prepared to accept that it is not directly pertinent to their own work, they can leave it alone.
Transformation also has its own full-time monitoring committee, but to ask Pienaar’s team not to address that subject would go beyond ignoring the elephant in the room – it would be tantamount to avoiding going into the room altogether.
The M&G learned this week that CSA’s general council members have been told they can expect the results of the “Pienaar Probe” by the time they convene for the annual general meeting in July.
Given that they have yet to conduct a single interview and that many of the national players are still in India, that gives the panel about a month to get the job done.
The greatest fear is that CSA’s laudable desire to address the Proteas’ chronic underachievement at ICC world events was based more on a subconscious desire to be seen to do the right thing rather than really wanting to do it. But perhaps Pienaar can actually pull it off. If he does, it might just be as great an achievement as lifting that golden cup in 1995.