There’s something truly rotten in the state of cricket in South Africa.
In the listless breeze of the heavy Highveld summer afternoon, traffic stops and starts. Tempers fray. Taxi drivers honk their horns. Some other fool tries to run a red light. More honking. A young man ahead bops his head in tune to the radio. At least someone’s having fun out here. The sun beats down on Glenhove Road, relentless. Another car inches forward. Talk radio drones on — there’s a segment on tips to best your neighbourhood mosquito now. The pristine windows overlooking the traffic offer a momentary escape. What exactly happens behind that glass? What are they saying? What are they doing? What deals are being made? Or falling through?
The cars crawl forward.
The whitewashed facade of the Cricket South Africa (CSA) building stands mute. Though the occupants of that building may disagree, CSA has been the site of chaos. Flapping limply in the breeze, a banner comically small for the expanse of the fence it’s tied to advertises the Mzansi Super League.
But it’s not the promise of a good game, albeit the hit and giggle of a T20 game, that has cricket lovers excited this week.
Surely something is dreadfully amiss when the most anticipated sporting event of the weekend is a board meeting?
CSA has said that Saturday will be the day that “important decisions will be made”. No more deflecting. No more milquetoast apologies. An actual day of deliberation followed by a press conference with actual engagement — or it says.
It’s difficult to trust anything a CSA official says right now. But it’s more difficult to predict what exactly will happen when the doors of the boardroom close on Saturday morning and the discussions begin.
It could well be an opportunity to stall and close ranks; ensure that no other board member decides to follow Shirley Zinn and Iqbal Khan out the door. The two independent directors resigned this week, citing concerns about corporate governance at CSA and, in the latter’s case, “widespread credit card abuse in the office”.
So CSA could well use Saturday’s meeting to fashion a consensus of support for the current management team. But there is also enough scrutiny of CSA right now to indicate that chief executive Thabang Moroe may not survive Saturday’s meeting.
But, whatever happens, the game of cricket in South Africa will not be salvaged by that meeting alone. The scale of the problems facing the organisation are so steep that it is impossible for CSA to get its shit together over the course of a spot of brunch. The egregious decision to revoke the accreditation of five journalists last weekend might have invited the wolves to the door, but CSA’s problems run far, far deeper than the fragility of the egos of its executive team.
At this point, CSA is not even trying to pretend that it has much, if any, consultation with players — you know, the actual people responsible for giving life to the game of cricket.
The SA Cricket-ers’ Association (Saca), which claims to represent every professional in the country — men and women — has now added a formal dispute related to an Mzansi Super League payment from last year to its ongoing high court battle with CSA about plans to dramatically restructure domestic cricket.
CSA, you see, plans to ditch the current franchise system in favour of the more traditional 12-team provincial set-up. Moroe says this will bring down the projected loss of CSA over the next four years from R650-million to R350-million.
While the tensions between players and CSA outstrip the current furore, it’s all come to a head as Saca announced on Wednesday that it will discuss protest action at a meeting on Friday. Such a step would be unprecedented should it come to pass but chief executive Tony Irish told the Mail & Guardian that it would be implemented only if no other option looks viable.
“It’s a very early discussion of what the possibilities are around that,” he said. “I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves on that. Obviously, if this is seen as a possible way forward then the players will need to be consulted on that.”
Given that it’s a hypothetical at the moment, Irish couldn’t comment on which matches might be affected but one would think that England’s visit in December would be in jeopardy should the action go ahead.
Whatever your feelings are towards the adversarial approach of Saca, it was hard not to sympathise with its views this week after Moroe issued an apology to everyone under the sun for the “mishap” that resulted in the accreditation saga — fans, board members, sponsors, journalists — but made no mention of the players.
“When assurances were given to stakeholders, there was not one mention of players,” Irish continued. “This is something that disturbs players and it disturbs us. This has never been the attitude in the past, to Saca or the players. We’ve always been respected … This is something that’s happened over the last year and a half and it’s just got worse and worse.”
When the media rallied around its own, CSA jumped back in fright. When Standard Bank demanded answers, it scurried to appease its financiers. Yet when players asked to be included in decisions about their future the body refuses to hear a word.
It’s precisely the welfare of players that CSA must urgently address. To secure a future for the game, measures have to be taken to block the drain of talent from the national team. There’s no denying that the loss of key players in recent years has significantly weakened the team.
Whether it’s through Kolpak deals or AB de Villiers’s curious decision to retire, it’s clear that international players don’t have much incentive to stick around. And until they’re given one, the men’s national team will continue its descent into mediocrity.
But there’s also the matter of developing new generations of world-beaters. Too few players are coming through the ranks. And the young talent who have made it into the Proteas — Kagiso Rabada is exhibit one here — are severely overworked. At this rate, there is no future for South African cricket.
But the most recent past has also not been reckoned with properly. When exactly was the designated time to reflect on the India debacle? The Proteas were thrashed. They showed no sign of competitiveness. And this, on the back of a disastrous World Cup. But there’s been no sign of introspection; no ideas put forward about what went wrong.
Instead we’ve fast-forwarded to the Mzansi Super League — but you’d be forgiven for not knowing it’s even happening. Certainly, if Sho Madjozi hadn’t been tweeting from the Wanderers the other day, you’d not even guess a potential rival to the IPL was under way.
Now we await the on-form England on Boxing Day. And, as has become custom, the fast-bowlers have been worked half to death. Your Boxing Day plans would be better forged without including any cricket.
Poor international form might be easier to forgive if mismanagement and confusion at an organisational level were not clearly factors as well.
In the aftermath of the axing of coach Ottis Gibson and his cohort, CSA presented a new management structure that promised to introduce accountability to the management of the Proteas and the player-seletion process. It all sounded good. In theory.
Interim director of cricket Corrie van Zyl has since been suspended, as have chief operating officer Naasei Appiah and commercial manager Clive Eksteen. Enoch Nkwe will be the “interim team director” for the England tour but no one quite knows what that means — especially for the long-term coaching of the side.
And it was exactly a question about who would be selecting the team that so provoked CSA that it took the extraordinary step of shutting journalists out. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin can offer more subtlety.
Then there’s the unmissable Graeme Smith fiasco. He was clearly interested in the director of cricket position, despite initial denials, but has said CSA must first sort itself out before he comes on board — and that includes resolving all the legal actions against it.
In addition to the case brought by Saca, the Western Province Cricket Association also delivered an embarrassing bloody nose to CSA last week when it won its arbitration case after CSA had placed its board under administration.
Night has fallen now on Glenhove Road. The cars are fewer. The road is soaked in the rain. You’re still left wondering what happens behind the windows of the white-washed building. Even your worst imaginings couldn’t ruin cricket but it will take some time for the South African game to regain its form.