Protea implosion – What do SA’s cricketing men live by?

 

 

The past year has been CSA’s annus horribilis. The Proteas’ on-field performance was dismal but it’s the behind-the-scenes machinations of the administrators that have truly damaged the sport


South Africa’s 3-0 Test series reverse in India in October felt as if the Proteas woke up every morning to find an intruder’s turd on their pillows and a grinning opposition player wiping their bottoms with the bed sheet.

Wait. Hold up. Let’s rewind a few decades to CLR James, who himself rewinds a few centuries to the ancient Greeks, in the essay What Do Men Live By? In his critical response to Leon Trotsky’s argument that the workers were deflected from politics by sport — in which James insists “with my past I simply could not accept that” — the Trinidadian notes the regard with which the Greeks held their Olympic champions.

That “most politically minded and intellectually and artistically the most creative of all peoples”, James continues, recognised the “notable distinction” conferred upon their city by the returning hero. “His victory was a testament to the quality of the citizens. All the magnates of the city welcomed him home in civic procession. They broke down a part of the wall for him to enter: a city which could produce such citizens had no need of walls to defend it.”

Fast-forward from antiquity to day three of South Africa’s first Test against India in Visakhapatnam and the Proteas had heroes for whom walls deserved to be broken down.


Dean Elgar (160 off 287 balls) and Quinton de Kock (111 off 163 balls) had suggested that South Africa still had the guts and determination to put up a fight against India. A demonstrable backbone despite the valid argument calling for patience because the Proteas were a greenhorn side in a transitional phase, playing in a most difficult of countries to tour and against, arguably, the best Indian Test side of all time.

By day four in Visakhapatnam South Africa had chipped away at India’s first innings total of 502 declared and scored 431 all out. There was grit and there was fight. Walls were broken, hope sprung and there was the suggestion that more heroes would be celebrated.

Then, for the rest of the series, South Africa’s top-order batsmen were often castled by India’s quicks or their spinners. While the tail wagged, no one appeared to be manning the Proteas’ defences — and as the ensuing innings defeats in Pune and Ranchi confirmed, every day’s morning brought home only the misery of a proud cricketing nation humiliated while it slept. The invaders had waltzed through the holes in the walls, nicked the family heirlooms and defecated on our beds.

As the Test series ground towards its inevitable conclusion the effects of the losses on the players were increasingly palpable. Dejection set in; likewise the sense that not everything was right in South African cricket and that the malaise extended well beyond the boundary of the cricket oval and into the boardroom.

Captain Faf du Plessis, an empathetic leader and a consistently honourable man, had insisted he would not follow contemporaries like Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn into Test retirement. He was determined to guide the Proteas through what seems an increasingly fraught process of rebuilding. But he appeared to be taking strain; feeling the pressure of what was unfolding on the field, but also something beyond his control — machinations much further away that were, nevertheless, immediately affecting the team.

India has the highest amount of untreated faecal matter in the world. Yet, the stench of administrative explosion back home at Cricket South Africa (CSA), would soon overpower any pungency around that country’s cricket grounds.

Since the Proteas’ return from the subcontinent, revelations of poor governance; the CSA board’s inability to perform basic fiduciary duties; projected losses of R654-million over four years for the organisation; the withdrawal of Standard Bank which were the title sponsors for the men’s national team to the tune of about R100-million a year; last year’s withdrawal of Momentum as title sponsors of the women’s team; insinuations of administrative interference in playing matters; alleged credit card abuse by officials; woefully incompetent attempts to restructure the domestic game; a farcical search for a permanent director of cricket; the last ditch appointment of former Test captain Graeme Smith (as director of cricket) and former Test wicketkeeper Mark Boucher (as national mens’ team coach) as a shot of good news that deflected public ire demanding the board resign; the demotion of Enoch Nkwe from the team’s acting technical director to Boucher’s assistant; the finalisation of a Test selection panel less than two weeks before a home series against England (et cetera ad nauseum) have all undermined the credibility of South African cricket.

The withdrawal of media accreditation of five cricket writers who had asked uncomfortable, yet perfectly normal, journalistic questions about how the game was being run, underlined CSA’s autocratic instincts and caused a public furore.

After a meeting of the CSA board on December 6 and 7 it was announced that the organisation’s chief executive Thabang Moroe has been suspended on full pay. Moroe’s suspension followed the November suspensions of acting director of cricket Corrie van Zyl (who was nevertheless interviewed for permanent appointment to this position), commercial manager Clive Eksteen and chief financial officer Naasei Appiah.

CSA chief executive Thabang Moroe was suspended earlier this month. (Shaun Roy/Gallo Images)

They were apparently suspended because of unpaid image rights to players for the marketing of the Mzansi Super League (MSL) — a move that the South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca) had criticised, arguing that following its interactions with CSA, it was clear the buck actually stopped with Moroe, who was alleged to have not signed off on the payments.

In the week before CSA’s December board meeting two of its five independent directors, Shirley Zinn and Iqbal Khan, resigned. Khan made noises about irregular credit card use as he shuffled out the door — something he did not mention in CSA’s 2018-2019 annual integrated report — and three more officials were subsequently suspended: financial manager Ziyanda Nkuta, procurement manager Lundi Maja and administrator Dalene Nolan. Tellingly, only one of the non-independent directors (the cricket bosses on the board), the Gauteng Cricket Board’s Jack Madiseng, understood to be an ally of Moroe, has resigned.

This administrative turmoil has affected the Proteas’ performance in 2019, especially at the Cricket World Cup (CWC) in England in May and June, according to documents the Mail & Guardian has seen.

The past year has been South African cricket’s annus horribilis. A first Test series loss to Sri Lanka at home (0-2) was followed by the Proteas’ worst performance ever at a Cricket World Cup, with the team losing five of its first seven matches (the match against the West Indies was washed out) to exit the tournament before achieving late, dead-rubber victories against Sri Lanka and Australia in the group stages.

South African fans supporting the Proteas. (Matt King/Getty Images)

The team had gone into the tournament as favourites for a semifinal berth at least, with a 72% win ratio since September 2018 across all formats. They had won five of the six ODI series played over that time, beating Sri Lanka and Australia away and Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Sri Lanka at home.

But things fell apart, in no small part because of the uncertainty created within the team and apparent kow-towing by the CSA board to interests outside those of the Proteas and their success at the tournament.

According to a confidential team management report submitted to the board, the team was destabilised by the withdrawal of an offer to extend coach Ottis Gibson’s contract for another year. Gibson was notified of this on the day the team left for England, according to documents the M&G has seen.

This appeared to fray the already fractured relationship between the players and the board. A source intimate with the process told the M&G that this was considered by those close to, and in the team, as a punitive measure against Gibson, allegedly instigated by Moroe.

This was after Gibson, Du Plessis and team manager Dr Mohammed Moosajee had approached CSA president Chris Nenzani with an objection about a board decision made on February 1 to give the chief executive final say on team selection. The board had apparently expressed unhappiness about the national team not reaching its transformation targets. Team management had argued that extenuating circumstances — managing workloads and injuries — had affected these targets.

“Linda [Zondi, the then chairperson of selectors] was not consulted [about the decision], Ottis had no idea and the impression created was that the selectors could not be trusted on transformation. Ottis phoned Chris to express his concerns and the decision was overturned, but this led to the relationship between Thabang and Ottis breaking down completely and the contract offer being withdrawn,” said the source.

The uncertainty about Gibson’s future added to the instability in the dressing room. The players were already unhappy about the ongoing stand-off between Saca and CSA over the latter’s proposed restructuring of domestic cricket to replace six franchises with 12 provincial ones. The proposed move is being challenged in court, with Saca arguing it will lead to job losses among cricketers and a dilution of talent in the upper echelons of the domestic game.

Dean Elgar (left) celebrates after scoring a century during the first Test vs India in October, which was pretty much the highlight of that tour. (Ishara S Kodikara/AFP)

According to the team management report, the “Saca/CSA dispute shortly before the [World Cup] tournament commenced was both untimely and unfortunate. As much as we tried to downplay the dispute, it affected the team space.”

Another issue was the inability to manage players’ workloads, especially during the Indian Premier League (IPL), which preceded the World Cup. Kagiso Rabada exacerbated a back injury, while Du Plessis and wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock played all the way to the finals, despite requests by team management for their early return.

According to the management report, the team had “made a request for key Proteas players to return home early from the IPL for a period of rest and rejuvenation before the CWC, similar to what CA [Cricket Australia] and ECB [England Cricket Board] did. This request was turned down by the IPL/BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India] and was not supported by CSA.”

A former CSA employee told the M&G that the decision not to recall players early was made because CSA had been pressured by the BCCI and offered a few more ODIs, which have yet to be included in the future tours programme of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

The decision to “allow/force key players (Du Plessis, Rabada & De Kock) to stay at the IPL till the end” led to insufficient rest and recovery time for players and a “delayed and then truncated camp” prior to the team leaving for the World Cup, according to the management report.

“The board sabotaged us with their decisions,” said a source close to the team. “Players were at increased risk of injuries, in fact, seven out of the 15 player squad picked up injuries before or during the World Cup and this number increased to 12 during the tournament — we were never going to win it like that.”

Noting the pre-tournament injuries to fast-bowlers Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi, and the ongoing injury concerns about Rabada and Steyn, who eventually had to withdraw from the tournament, former CSA president Norman Arendse said: “In September last year Ottis Gibson was boasting about his quartet of fast-bowlers who would win South Africa the World Cup, but the injuries affected our performance.”

Earlier this month, Arendse wrote an open letter to CSA calling for Moroe, Nenzani and the board to take responsibility for the crisis in South African cricket.

From 2013 Arendse and former director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli had served as independent directors on the CSA board following the recommendations of the commission of inquiry into untoward bonuses paid to CSA officials after South Africa hosted the 2009 IPL.

The commission chairperson, retired judge Chris Nicholson, had recommended a smaller board with a majority of members being independent, professionally skilled, non-executive directors. This would have been in keeping with CSA’s section 21 company status and ensured best corporate practices, he argued.

Previously, all 11 presidents of the affiliate unions sat on the CSA board, together with independent directors. Nicholson’s recommendations sought to install more independent directors, who would provide fiduciary oversight and “steer clear of conflicts of interests of individual shareholders”. Nicholson considered these conflicts to include the narrow provincialism and parochial interests of affiliate unions, which he had red-flagged as part of the problem leading to the lack of oversight in relation to the IPL bonus scandal.

“Chris [Nenzani] was always a very strong personality and quite arrogant. He showed signs of having an autocratic streak during my time as an independent director, but we had strong independent directors who all had a background in cricket, so we pushed back,” said Arendse.

“It’s natural that we had differences of opinion and when things were referred to the social and ethics committee [chaired by Pikoli] they almost invariably found in our favour. We developed a strong culture of questioning things, whether it was selection or revenues, and this filtered through to the non-independent directors, who found the oomph to ask questions. We had a robust, strong culture of accountability, transparency and oversight,” said Arendse, who resigned as an independent director in 2018.

This oversight and accountability — together with an experienced chief executive in Haroon Lorgat — had realised a “golden period” in South African cricket, Arendse believes. “If you look at that period, Haroon was bringing in big sponsorship, like the R100-million a year deal with Standard Bank. The South African Test side was stable — always number one, number two or number three in the world — [and] undefeated for a very long period away from home. Administratively, we ran a very tight ship,” he said.

But these oversight strengths have been eroded during Moroe’s tenure. A new memorandum of incorporation rubber-stamped by the board allows for more non-independent directors to be included on it. Cricket administrators Donovan May and Madiseng were appointed in February, and Angelo Carolissen joined in September last year. The effect, according to people like Arendse, was to dilute the independent-mindedness of the CSA board.

This meant a return to provincial interests taking precedence over the interests of the game, development at grassroots level and the smooth functioning of the national men’s and women’s national team, say cricket insiders. “The smaller provinces have formed a bloc, which props up Nenzani and Moroe, keeping them in power while they look after these small unions,” said one cricket insider. “How else do you explain the inexplicable decision to broaden the franchise pool to 12 teams?”

It has also allowed power to be concentrated around Moroe and Nenzani at a time when those who work, or have recently worked, at CSA complained to the M&G about nepotism and cronyism abounding in the organisation. Cricketing insiders have described Moroe as someone without the administrative experience required to run CSA and “who seems to spin himself out of any situation, sometimes believing his own spin”. All this was done under the guise of “narrow Black Africanism”, said one former employee.

Lorgat said Nenzani was “excellent at the beginning when he first became president. He was ethical, he did things properly but at some point a switch appears to have gone off and now he is simply clinging onto power — for what? Surely it can’t be for the fees and ICC meeting allowances, which is about $500 per day?”

The issue of money, and CSA’s haemorrhaging of money has been an open wound at the organisation over the past two years.

According to Lorgat, CSA had more than R1-billion in the bank when he resigned after the postponement of the mooted Global T20 league, which has since metamorphosed into the MSL. Now, Saca claims CSA’s projected losses are closer to R1-billion over four years, almost double what CSA has publicly announced.

This year, the MSL attracted shirt sponsors for all the franchises only after it had already started. CSA had initially agreed to have SuperSport as “equity partners” in a “joint venture” before a fall-out earlier this year saw them part ways and the broadcast rights given to the SABC.

Having carried the costs of two MSL tournaments without a title sponsor and a broadcasting deal with the SABC, which Nenzani told the M&G did not cover all the costs, CSA is building debt rather than building towards profit. This makes CSA ever more beholden to ICC hand-outs and the whims and fancies of the BCCI, which intends being increasingly aggressive about rights, money and fixture programming under new president Sourav Ganguly.

On December 7 Nenzani told the M&G that although the SABC deal was not lucrative, it allowed cricket to reach audiences it would not normally do and “democratise” the sport.

Lorgat described the SABC deal as a “get out of jail card”. “You could have still had it broadcast on both SABC and SuperSport. SuperSport understand it is not in their best interest to monopolise cricket completely and instead of having, hypothetically, a R100-million broadcast … the parties could have agreed on a discounted R80-million with selected games simultaneously screened on SABC. SuperSport understands this and it currently exists in CSA’s international media rights deal with SuperSport,” he said.

The board certainly used several get out of jail cards at the press conference on December 7 after it closed ranks and threw Moroe under the bus. The announcement of the possibility of securing former Proteas captain Graeme Smith as the next director of cricket (confirmed on a three-month deal the next week) and that respected administrator Jacques Faul would act as chief executive with the assistance of former South African Test wicketkeeper and ICC chief executive Dave Richardson was merely “misdirection”, according to Arendse. “They’ve made the right noises to appease the public, but they have not done the honourable thing: accepted accountability for the mess they have created and resigned.”

It is a view echoed by Saca, which, after the press conference, again called for the CSA board to resign. Lorgat agreed. “Every director has to answer some serious questions …How did they allow this to happen? How do you explain this crisis situation where relationships with your players is in trouble, your relationship with the media is in trouble, your relationship with sponsors is in trouble and on top of this you are facing serious financial trouble?”

All this while the Proteas rebuild a team shorn by retirement of its established stars and prepare for a four-Test series with England under a new coaching regime for the second time this year — less than 12 months ago the board had decided to keep Gibson and his team on.

So far, the South African public has received very little by way of accountability or answers as to the problems that have beset South African cricket this year. But in the silence and misdirection, we do have a better understanding of what these cricketing men live by.

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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