These are heady days for cricket, writes LUKE ALFRED ahead of two very important days for beloved game in South Africa albeit off the field.
Later this morning (Friday), the SA Cricketers’ Association executive will decide on whether to pursue industrial action against their employers, Cricket South Africa, the move coming at the end of a week in which big business, the cricket family and the media have all called for definitive action against CSA and their besieged chief executive, Thabang Moroe.
If industrial action comes to pass, it might take place during the concluding phase of the Mzansi Super League, the eliminator of which gets played today week (December 13), with the final the following Monday (December 16).
Or it might even take place during the England tour, with England arriving for a four-Test series next week, with them playing two warm-up games at Willowmoore Park in Benoni before the first Test on Boxing Day.
Either form of strike action would be catastrophic for the local game, throwing the entire playing schedule into disarray.
The truth of the matter is probably less sexy, however. Having never embarked upon strike action in 17 years of existence, SACA are unlikely to do so now.
Yes, there is irritability from the ordinary rank-and-file professional cricketers who make up the vast majority of the union, but in such things precedent counts for something, so it is wise to look to other explanations for what they’re doing.
SACA’s threat should be seen in the light of tomorrow’s CSA board meeting at an OR Tambo International hotel, a meeting that was meant to have taken place via teleconference on Tuesday but was postponed. SACA’s fears are that CSA will duck and dive their way through the meeting, possibly announce former Proteas captain Graeme Smith as Director of Cricket, and therefore try to tap off some off the negative feeling against them.
The union will surely wait to see what transpires tomorrow before announcing anything over-zealous, keeping their gunpowder dry until they’ve seen what the meeting brings.
Fireworks have been promised, but whether roman candles light up the airport sky at around lunchtime tomorrow is another matter entirely. After senior independent director Iqbal Khan’s resignation on Wednesday night, word has it that the remaining three independents – Steve Cornelius, Dawn Mokhobo and Marius Schoeman – have belatedly reached a kind of gatvol moment.
It is either them or Moroe tomorrow, sources are saying, with the plan for them to demand Moroe’s immediate resignation in the wake of Shirely Zinn’s resignation 48 hours before Khan’s. If Moroe doesn’t go, they will resign en masse themselves, plunging CSA further into governance and constitutional crisis.
Such brinkmanship is, of course, dangerous in the amoral world of South African cricket politics, a place where lunches are endless and unlimited access to the Long Room bar is just a jacket and tie away.
Few have corned the market on moral cowardice quite like your average CSA board member. They say one thing and do another, always keeping a watchful eye open for junkets to Lord’s and rounds of golf at Zimbali where CSA’s last board meeting was conducted before the start of the latest edition of the MSL.
This is why the independents’ line in the sand tomorrow is so important: they are meant to rise above petty considerations, for their fiduciary duties mandate them to keep cricket’s best interests uppermost in their minds, something they seem to have taken note of only belatedly.
A word here on Khan, who resigned via a letter to CSA president, Chris Nenzani, late on Wednesday. Khan’s letter was unusually strongly worded, in which he basically rubbished his CEO, Moroe. ‘I can no longer be held accountable for the misconduct of the CEO,’ wrote Khan, as he went on to detail ‘widespread credit card abuse’ in the organisation, the undermining of CSA’s relationship with SACA and the increasingly embarrassing suspension of senior employees, Naasei Appiah, Corrie van Zyl and Clive Eksteen, a matter that appears to be far from over.
Crucially, Khan also detailed the ‘mis-handling’ of the Director of Cricket matter in his letter.
Khan’s final point is the one rank-and-file fans care most about and is worth unpacking. The Smith issue should be dubbed cricket’s ‘load-shedding’ moment for its off-again, on-again nature. Word is that while Smith remains committed to lighting up South African cricket, he won’t do so – to coin a phrase – in the current circumstances.
He is also smart enough not to allow his name to be used as a time-buying mechanism for this CSA executive and, like SACA, will wait and see before plotting his next move.
Smith doubtless has plans, one of which is to bring his old Proteas teammate, Mark Boucher into the fold, but this could be so much idle chatter. There’s certainly a dream-team dimension to the Smith-Boucher partnership but you wonder if the crisis in our cricket – the endless loss of players to other parts of the world, and under-performance of our national teams – isn’t more endemic than they have the staying power to address.
In a sense the current upheaval is symptomatic of the endemic inefficiencies and lack of direction in South African cricket. This was the board – let’s not forget – who ignored Moroe’s lack of operational track record and allowed him to become interim CEO before appointing him full time.
For Zinn and Khan to suddenly discover a conscience when the crisis has been 18 months in the making is rich indeed. They ignored the fact that Moroe was complicit in the T20Global League debacle, sitting on a crucial bridging sub-committee meant to liaise between Haroon Lorgat and the board, and they ignored the fact he was clearly under-qualified for the job.
Now they are pretending that cricket’s long illness can be remedied by cutting off a useless limb? It can’t, because cricket’s body politic is badly infected. It has been for years. Indeed, the crisis at CSA is probably far worse than we know.
Finally, a more cheery view. This has been an unprecedented week in cricket, with public letters from former CSA president, Norman Arendse, and the Willowton Group, the holding company for former sponsors Sunfoil, and force behind the Sunfoil Development Trust, indicating their unease.
Last night, the Titans had an emergency meeting, while down the road, the Central Gauteng Lions (CGL) met and called for the entire CSA board’s immediate resignation as well as a full forensic audit into their affairs. A notable absentee at the meeting was the CGL president, Jack Madiseng, who has been campaigning with great energy this week in the hope that Nenzani and CSA vice-president, Beresford Williams, will be unseated in the CSA crisis so he can take over the CSA presidency.
Suddenly even commentators everywhere are dusting off a love of the game that, like an old linseed oil-stained bat, has been in the attic for ages.
Even sleepy Nathi Mthethwa, the minister of sport, has awoken from his Twitter-obsessed slumbers and entered the fray.
The sound, the fury, the power, the play.
What a week it has been.
Disclaimer: This article was written prior to Moroe’s ‘precautionary suspension’, Standard Bank’s decision to end their title sponsorship of the Proteas and the resignation of CSA board independent director Dawn Mokhobo. All three happened on Friday, shortly after this article was published.
Photo: Gallo Images