/ 25 January 2024

SA cricket does not look like SA cricket

South Africa V West Indies Icc U19 Men's Cricket World Cup South Africa 2024
Appeal: David Teeger, who has been a thorn in the side of Cricket South Africa. (Photo by Michael Steele-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

Over the coming days, cricket fans will witness the sight of a third-string Proteas team, full of players you’ve never heard of, doing Test duty in New Zealand — an unprecedented event. 

This is because South Africa’s first- and second-choice players are occupied with the jamboree that is the second edition of the SA20. 

As a result, they aren’t available to play Test cricket for their country, once seen as the zenith of every cricketer’s career. 

The SA20 takes pride of place on the calendar because it pays the bills by generating broadcast rights revenue across the world. 

South Africa has a smaller pool of stellar players than England, India and Australia, so said players need to stay at home to wear coloured clothing, hit sixes and earn astonishingly large amounts of money. 

It helps, too, to be chipper about the endless blaring of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, sign a few autographs and pose for selfies. 

Not only does the double-booking give the impression that Cricket South Africa (CSA) can’t read their own Google Calendar but running two formats of the game concurrently gives the impression of diffusion. 

Where is cricket’s commercial core? Does this coincide with its emotional values? What are the game’s priorities? Nobody seems to know. 

Such diffusion is well expressed in recent events featuring sponsors Betway, an online betting platform. As an event sponsor of the Proteas, Betway’s latest contract with CSA was meant to end on 8 January, the final day of the second Test against India at Newlands.

As it turned out, the Test was over well before that, rolling to an early conclusion after a punch-drunk one-and-a-half days. 

The reason? Between them, the Western Province Cricket Association and CSA conspired to prepare a graveyard, rather than a pitch. 

All of this meant lost sponsorship opportunities for Betway. 

They might, of course, renew as an event sponsor but it’s also an open secret in cricket circles that they’re none too pleased with CSA, so probably won’t. 

Betway’s dissatisfaction takes many forms. 

They’re unhappy, for a start, with how CSA has handled things in relation to under-19 captain David Teeger. CSA’s first pass at the kerfuffle, remember, was to call in senior counsel Wim Trengove to adjudicate remarks Teeger made at the Jewish Achievers Awards’ Ceremony on 22 October. When Trengove said Teeger’s statements weren’t detrimental to the game, the matter appeared to have been put to rest. 

Except that on the eve of South Africa’s hosting of the under-19 World Cup a week ago, CSA stripped Teeger of the captaincy, saying it was “in his own best interests and those of the team”. 

Teeger remains part of the team, however, which raises the question of whether CSA seriously expects a thinking public to believe the risk of protest and even violence at the team’s matches is reduced because he’s not the guy who tosses the coin?

4 Day Match: South Africa 'a' V West Indies 'a', Day 4
Clyde Fortuin is a promising member of the Proteas team. (Christiaan Kotze/Gallo Images)

While Betway is disenchanted with CSA, it is starry-eyed about the SA20, and continues to be the sponsor of this year’s tournament. 

All well and good, except there’s a problem. CSA is the guardian of the game in this country and the SA20, which has a governing council independent of it, is nominally under its control. 

CSA attracts very few sponsors, and one of the few, Betway, has just failed to renew as an event sponsor for its Test team. 

At the same time, Betway is pleased to be involved with the SA20, which is punted like nobody’s business on co-owner SuperSport, and has a glitz and glamour with which the more sedate and fluvial forms of the game can’t compete. 

So, what do we have? CSA, after two attempts (the T20 Global League and the Mzansi Super League) going back seven years, finally has a T20 tournament that sticks. 

From the point of view of Betway, what’s germane here is that the SA20 is as far away from CSA as it’s possible to get, while still being nominally under CSA’s control. 

In creating the SA20, CSA has  fallen into the unintended consequence of creating opposition for itself. It’s called cannibalisation. And it brings us back to the idea that neither the fans, nor the market, nor anyone else associated with cricket in this country, really know what the hell’s going on.

CSA is painfully aware of this, at least in part, because only last year it bleated that it needed to be given more credit for its role in the SA20 by SuperSport and the SA20 organisers. 

Suddenly you found the cheesy spectacle of overweight middle-aged men in tight-fitting clothes appearing on behalf of CSA at all the SA20 post-match awards and interviews. 

It was rather like taking your children to Joburg Zoo on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, only to see a troupe of clowns wander into the lion’s den. 

Over in New Zealand, the Proteas’ whites won’t be quite as slim-fitting, and the team will have room to move out of the sometimes fetid confines of the local sporting fishbowl.

In a way, the Shukri Conrad-coached team are in a win-win. They’re not first-choice, so no one expects them to do very well; such negative expectations mean the pressure is off and, who knows? They might just surprise us with a win.

In point of fact, they’re not too shabby a side, and there’s a wisdom to some of Conrad’s choices. 

Take David Bedingham, who made his debut against India at Centurion on Boxing Day and looked the part, as well as Zubayr Hamza, once Bedingham’s middle-order colleague at Western Province. 

After falling foul of a drugs ban, Hamza moved from Western Province to the Lions in the off-season, with immediate positive results. 

He’s had a good first-class season for his new province, and he’s played Test cricket in New Zealand before, representing the Proteas the last time they were there during a Covid-disrupted series this time two years ago. 

If ever there’s a time to convert promise into a regular place in the side, now is it.

Another member of the side is 37-year-old Boland leg-spinner Shaun von Berg, who is in the side with his Boland teammate, Clyde Fortuin, a wicket-keeper. 

Von Berg, who was a Tshwane boy before taking a detour via Bloem and ending up in Paarl, can’t talk more highly of the effervescent Fortuin. 

“We’re roomies at Boland,” he says, “Clyde’s got a good cricket brain, so I don’t need to signal him or anything — he knows exactly what I’m doing, sometimes before I do it.”

While our Test cricketers are doing their thing in the Land of the Long White Cloud, the Teeger matter just won’t go away in The Land That Can Never Reach Consensus. A week ago, the South African under-19s — with Teeger in the side but not as captain — opened their campaign against the West Indies in Potch, where South Africa batted first. 

Teeger scored a slow 44 in 98 balls as SA posted 285 for nine. Before the game was over, however, he had regained the captaincy because the player who inherited it from him, Juan James, was injured. 

South Africa won a close match by 31 runs, with left-arm pace bowler and young hopeful Kwena Maphaka taking five for 38. 

And Teeger, the captain who was not captain, was captain for an hour and a half before the captaincy reverted back to James.