SREELATA S.YELLAMRAZU | 20 JANUARY, 2020
SA Roll Out Changes But Still a Long Road Ahead
Problems plague SA
“Beware the wounded buffalo, especially in Africa,” Mark Boucher’s streetfighter pedigree was on show yet again, this time in his role as South Africa’s new head coach. However, while optimism ran high after high profile appointments to South Africa’s cricket set up, the problems plaguing South Africa’s cricket are far from over, with only an immediate respite to take succor from at the turn of the decade.
Former spearhead, also known as White Lightning, Allan Donald applauded the decision of Graeme Smith, the newly appointed acting director of cricket, to bring the former South African wicketkeeper-batsman on board by stating that he (Boucher) would “bring some grunt to this Proteas outfit which is desperately needed.”
South Africa will need more than just teeth when they face up to England first at home and then the rest of their international commitments going into 2020.
After a year riddled with financial and policy confrontations between the Cricket South Africa board and the players associations and dishearteningly abject results on the field, even the recent appointees to the various posts within and on the periphery of South Africa’s dressing room warn that the road ahead will be long and not without potholes.
South Africa were riddled with problems from the very outset at the start of 2019. There was a strange kind of message of optimism expressed by Chris Nanzani, the South Africa chief, and Thabang Moroe, Cricket South Africa’s chief executive, even as South Africa’s results were mixed at best at the end of last year. If Pakistan posed questions, an even more beleaguered Sri Lanka handed the home team a shocking 2-0 drubbing in the Test series.
South Africa went on to suffer their worst ICC Cricket World Cup showing to date, booted out for all practical purposes by the end of only the first week of the six week tournament in England. Even when heartening performances returned, queries abounded about South Africa’s ability to handle high pressure situations. It seemed only natural then that by the time South Africa landed in India, they could only show a semblance of their ability to go down rather ignominiously in a 3-0 Test series whitewash that included back-to-back innings defeats.
Controversies plagued South Africa like a dark cloud.
Even in the background of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the South African Cricketers Association (SACA) was threatening a legal war against CSA for unapproved domestic cricket restructure that would take them from six franchisee teams to twelve provincial teams. Calling out the board for jeopardizing the livelihood of cricketers, SACA even recently refused to join the CSA for a debate on the way forward this week, calling this move late and vindicating their stand all along that enough thought had not been put into the move in the first place.
While AB de Villiers’ late change of heart was considered an awkward inconvenience of a decision in the middle of what was turning out to be a turmoil of a World Cup, behind the scenes, the seeds of uncertainty and disharmony was already been sown. In a tit-for-tat move, Ottis Gibson, the then South African coach, was handed his termination notice on the plane ride to England even before South Africa’s campaign had got underway after Gibson had reportedly mooted the decision of the chief executive having the final say on the final playing eleven - bringing back interference and quota system concerns on board.
If the signs of autocratic manner of administration had become evident to the team think tank’s inner circle, the world was witness to the deeper turmoil when last month five journalists were at the receiving end of having their accreditation revoked for asking questions of the many scenarios plunging South Africa into the dark ages.
Not since the Hansie Cronje match fixing confessions at the turn of the last decade had the country seen such dark cricket days post-apartheid. Although South Africa’s performances on the field posed some belligerent questions this year, the underbelly threatened to reveal deeper, significantly more diabolical machinations at play in the board room.
In the span of one month, South Africa’s cricket was lurching dangerously from the precipice of a steep cliff. The house came crashing down before the former cricketers were brought on board to do some cosmetic surgery towards damage control.
Some of the board members resigned in the face of backlash over accusations of misappropriation of funds, setting off alarm bells. Standard Bank, South Africa’s main sponsors bringing in over 100 million rand a year, cited their inability to continue to support the team beyond the expiry of their contract. The team’s other sponsors, Sunfoil and Momentum, issued warning for the board to get their house in order before they would contemplate renewing their own individual contracts.
The controversy over the arbitrary suspension of certain officials, including the interim director of cricket, Corrie van Zyl, the inability to arrest the talent drain as a result of Kolpak deals that saw players like Duanne Olivier migrate, the ongoing dispute with the SACA over domestic restructuring, the bankruptcy of the board coffers from being a reported one billion rand in the plus under Haroon Lorgat’s regime as CEO to now being half a billion rands in deficit, the about turn with regard to the appointment of Graeme Smith, and the subject meted out to the journalists, all turned into a public fiasco whose façade Cricket South Africa could no longer hide.
While CSA attempted to hide behind two of the recent developments – the suspension with pay of Thabang Moroe and the appointment of former South African captain, Graeme Smith, to the position of director of cricket on an interim basis, the pre-fix of ‘acting’ for Smith and affix of ‘with pay’ for Moroe made it abundantly clear that the problems were far from resolved.
Even as the past week rolled by to bring in some swift decision making on the part of the most successful Test captain with regard to support staff appointments, off the field, the clamour for the resignation of the entire cricket board has grown significantly louder.
While SACA refused to engage with CSA, even with its interim CEO, Jacques Faul, and Dave Richardson, Smith went on record not only to suggest that the talks had broken down in the course of his original interview for him now to only serve until the Indian Premier League which is not ideal time to bring about long term changes to South Africa’s mental set up but also, that he was not dealing with CSA and that his only point of contact was Faul.
Smith made no bones about the fact that South Africa needed a robust set up in the dressing room in order to turn results around on the field. He brought in his trustworthy former team mates for pivotal positions. While appointing Boucher as South Africa’s head coach, Smith made it a point to assert that South Africa did not need radical measures such as when Enoch Nkwe was appointed as the team’s director on the lines of a football manager. Furthermore, he demoted Nkwe to becoming Boucher’s understudy.
Jacques Kallis was brought on as batting consultant while Charl Langeveldt was released from his role with Bangladesh cricket to join as the team’s bowling consultant.
Speaking of the dearth of talent that has hampered their transitioning phase after the retirement of high profile players such as Hashim Amla, Imran Tahir and Dale Steyn, Boucher was matter of fact but optimistic, “The talent pool has got a little less over the years, which is a concerning factor. But we get the right leadership in place, I think we can sort it out very quickly.”
Simply relying on good leadership and Brexit, however, might not be enough for South Africa to prevent the exodus of players through Kolpak given the financial constraints that have made decision making rather difficult even for players with national contract.
There was a reason why Smith reiterated more than once in the course of his discussions with the media about not only putting legitimate, concrete practices and set ups in place but also, of working out the ‘budget’ with Faul. The word ‘budget’ seemed to tag each of Smith’s openly stated tasks on his agenda, highlighting how grave Cricket South Africa’s fiscal situation was.
In fact, one of the gripes coming out the ICC Cricket World Cup was skipper Faf du Plessis’ contention that the Indian Premier League had thrown a spanner in the works as far as early return of players were concerned with regarding to conditioning which hampered their training as well as injury and workload management as in the case of Kagiso Rabada. In later reports, it has emerged that CSA, anticipating dole out from the BCCI in the form of more matches in Future Tours Programme, went ahead with the BCCI demands at the cost of South Africa’s preparations ahead of the World Cup.
Acknowledging the “scars” that Faf du Plessis spoke about after the grueling tour of India recently, Boucher was confident that things could turn around, “Sport is an amazing thing. It can be turned around in a couple of days. But I understand there is a lot of work to be done. Our confidence is a bit down. We need to get our confidence up.”
That sentiment could well extend to beyond the field.
Although Boucher’s tenure is expected to run until 2023, given that these much needed changes have been brought about in the week since Smith was made in charge of overseeing the overhaul, with Smith’s own time now hampered by contractual obligations outside of South Africa as a result of Cricket South Africa’s protracted, bungled negotiating, there is concern that not all of these appointments would stick if Smith does exit the scene in three months’ time.
The euphoria over the appointments of these key former players and the forthcoming international cricket matches including the presence of the England team on tour have not been able to obscure the gravity of the situation facing South Africa, formerly a formidable competitor and frontrunner on the international stage.
Former South African rugby player and Springbok captain, John Smit, quipped in wit at Boucher’s appointment, “Congrats to @markb46 an example to us all, from fighting for the Rhino to saving the Proteas, this man takes conservation to the next level!!!”
While Boucher’s efforts towards preserving the endangered wildlife species is well documented, it would have been far easier to see the funnier side of things and the humour in the statement and sentiment had South Africa’s state of cricket affairs not been in such dire straits.