A week during which the rest of the major cricket nations were furrowing their brows over the lack of context and relevance in bilateral cricket saw South Africa, once again, wrestling with a different problem — context and relevance to the majority of the nation.
It is hard enough for South Africans to grapple with the pros and cons of transformation and quotas, so it was no surprise to see and hear the reaction of others, which varied between incredulity and modest, qualified support depending on the average shade of the population.
Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting was more concerned about the lack of “meaning” to Australia’s bounce-back 4-1 one-day international series victory against Sri Lanka following the 3-0 Test series thrashing, and had the same questions about the five-match ODI series against the Proteas here next month.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) responded by issuing an obliquely positive statement following two days of meetings at which the Test-playing nations debated various league structures and “championships” for all three formats.
Ponting suggested promotion and relegation between two divisions in the ODI game but that concept for Test cricket was shot down in flames last week when the Board for the Control of Cricket in India president Anurag Thakur said they did not support it. Instead, the popular common ground in Dubai, where the meetings were held, appears to be a biannual Test “play-off” between the top two teams — a Test “champion” every two years.
“Significant progress on the future shape of all international cricket has been made … as members explored how to improve the quality of bilateral cricket,” said the ICC chief executive, David Richardson.
“The focus has been on solutions that will grow fan interest and engagement by delivering high-quality cricket, with the best players playing in an environment where every match counts.
“There is an appetite from the 10 full members for more context around all three formats of the game and we have consensus on a range of areas.
“This includes the details of ODI and T20 structures and principles around Test cricket schedules, which include the concept of a Test Champion play-off every two years, and the opportunity for more nations to be involved.
“Work will continue to develop a clear structure and position for each format over the coming months as the ICC collectively focuses on improving bilateral cricket for fans and players in the long run.”
Absolutely no detail whatsoever might indicate that “significant progress” has more spin on it than the greatest googly ever bowled, but what else could he say? The concept and prospect of formulated global leagues in all three formats should be enough to reignite the interest of even the most jaded supporters.
But nothing will happen before 2019 because of “existing arrangements”. Perhaps the will to change isn’t so strong after all.
At least Cricket South Africa can’t be accused of resisting change. Not any more, anyway. There has been no shortage of social media nastiness in the aftermath of quotas being confirmed at national team level. Are they right? Can they work?
Former national coach Eric Simons, asks a pertinent question: “What return has there been from the literally hundreds of millions of rands spent on transformation projects?
“If one judges the transformation process simply on the number of black players that are able to play for the Proteas then the efforts of the past 25 years has not worked. Surely the fact that we still have to even talk of quotas after 25 years is evidence of this fact,” Simons says.
“If one is totally honest, the system cannot even claim Kagiso Rabada and Temba Bavuma, can it? They both went to private schools and cannot be regarded as a result of the investment in transformation.”
So who can it claim?
The painful answer is probably “only Makhaya Ntini” at national level. He is all there is to show for an investment of about R150-million. Simons is not pointing fingers or looking to apportion blame for the failure — quite the opposite, in fact.
“We need to take an honest look at the past and learn from our mistakes to ensure we don’t make them again. What have we been doing wrong? I know there has been some research done but is it enough? You can have all the quotas you like but they’re only needed if there aren’t enough players coming through the system to fill the positions,” Simons says.
Often in sport, as in life, the best perspectives can be provided by those observing from a distance and with an informal or general interest rather than a vested one.
Dale Williams is an executive coach to several business leaders and convener of Strategic Thinking, a course for final-year business science students at the University of Cape Town. He was also the businessperson behind Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton’s partnership before they went on to coach India.
“It strikes me that, while it may have some other nuances, cricket is essentially a business. Smart businesses in South Africa have transformed themselves because it makes business rather than political sense,” he says.
“We would have a better Proteas team if we harnessed the potential of the whole population and not just whites who have traditionally made up the national side. Like a chief executive needs to take responsibility for the outcomes of their business, so too should the South African cricket leadership learn from their mistakes and turn around what can only be described as a disastrous failure to produce black players.”