Within a couple of months as a cricket writer, I found myself rubbing shoulders with the cream of the crop of the SA cricket scene when I attended the first Mzansi Super League draft on Wednesday in Montecasino, writes ANITHA MADIKIZELA.
My heart pumped rapidly as I slowly made my way to the venue. Up a couple of stairs to the lobby (where security doesn’t have a single smile to offer while you ask for directions), down the escalators to a wide, expansive and buzzing area lined with restaurants and full of slot machines – truly a sight to absorb on any other occasion but today was not the time for that. Today I focused squarely on the ushers holding ‘Mzansi Super League’ signs that lead to my destination – the Ballroom at Montecasino.
Ever the ‘awkward turtle’, I kept to myself as the band performed in the foyer and the masses chatted away with old friends over the coffee and drinks on offer. I pretended to have my head deep in the MSL draft book as I vaguely perused over the names in the hat while scanning the room to identify the numerous VIPs in my vicinity. Notably, Faf du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada were present as the marquee Proteas for the Paarl Rocks and the Jozi Stars respectively. Plenty more stars were on show as I spotted numerous Proteas parading through the venue.
When it came to the seating, with the event about to begin, I promptly disappeared to avoid the awkward scenario as soon as I realised there were no name-plates on the tables. A few minutes into the start, I walked in and searched for an open seat, quickly plodding myself down in the closest available seat while making zero eye contact with the rest of the media around me. I was in, I was seated, and I was unnoticed – only now could I truly enjoy the occasion.
Proceedings went off without a hitch; the first couple of rounds in the draft were concluded with the marquee Proteas and international players announced, and then picked, for each team. The two-minute time limit granted to each team to make a decision seemed generous as we swiftly raced through the rounds, completing a further four picks for each team before we were granted a short interval to stretch our legs.
At this point, I recalled the mission assigned to me from Head Office at the beginning of the day, get interviews, get videos, get voice recordings, SPEAK to someone! I had already spotted the table housing the Proteas players and immediately mustered the courage to approach. ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ I asked myself, ‘Fall on your face and break your glasses in front of a room full of people? Your clumsiness has already made you live through that, and much worse, before so… meh – whatever.’
As the internal dialogue continued in my head, I found my feet carrying me over to the distinguished table. I just awkwardly stood around while they talked before soon realising that no one was acknowledging me. Of course not, I was just hovering around with no purpose. ‘Hi guys’ I blurted out in the middle of their conversation to rudely interrupt, and with all eyes on me, I nervously added ‘Would anyone like to do a quick video interview about the MSL?’
The usual finger-pointing that often erupts among a group of young men consulted with a task then ensued as I was eventually pointed in Reeza Hendricks’ direction. The incredibly talented batsman from Kimberley quickly put my nerves to bed as he admitted his own apprehension, asking to only conduct the interview once he was picked in the draft and certain he would be representing one of the teams.
His honesty was appreciated and understandable, the competition for a place in any of the teams was rife and I can’t imagine the nerves the players had to experience as they waited for their name to be called. Luckily, the bubbly and ever-pleasant Chris Morris soon entered the scene and rescued both Reeza and myself from our minor conundrum; my first lucky break of the day.
Morris was amazing, the hero I needed and most definitely wanted. His towering presence was surprisingly benign as he offered a smile and plenty of jokes to break the ice and immediately put me at ease. We quickly shot the video for our YouTube page – with him sweetly bending his legs and crouching in order to accommodate for my short height – and I was suddenly off the mark for the day with effortless ease.
With my confidence in full flow, I went hunting for more players. I already learned that approaching the group was clearly a rookie mistake so instead, I waited for one to drift away from the pack before I attacked.
I caught Kagiso Rabada as he was returning to his seat and promptly convinced him to be my next prey before he settled down. He was nice enough to immediately agree before even asking what the interview would involve (lucky break No 2, I’m on a roll!). Quiet and soft-spoken, he calmly appeased me before continuing on his route back to the venue. ‘This is a lot easier than I expected,’ I remember thinking. ‘Your socially awkward soul can apparently do this, who knew?’
Next in my sights was Tabraiz Shamsi, who was somehow in a deep conversation in the middle of a noisy foyer. This time I’d remember my manners and not randomly interrupt. I hovered around him, waiting for the conversation to end, before pouncing as he tried to get himself a cup of coffee.
‘Hi there, my name is Anitha Madikizela from SA Cricket magazine, would you mind doing a quick video interview with me for our YouTube page about the Mzansi Super League?’
‘Hi, I’m Tabraiz Shamsi [obviously], not at all, you want to do it right now?’ he responded.
‘Yes please, over there in front of that banner would be awesome’.
And, just like that, I had another win under my belt.
Clearly very comfortable in front of a camera, the Proteas’ spinner was more than happy to comply with my request. He delivered a seamless shout-out video in one breath just off the direction I gave him from the onset. I was so impressed I nearly keeled over, ‘I love this guy, he’s doing ALL the things!’ I thought. We concluded just in time as draft proceedings resumed once more inside the Ballroom.
The marquee players that were present during the draft had already found their way to their team’s tables and those closest to me noticeably became more and more involved in the decision-making think tanks as the day wore on. Rabada with the Jozi Stars, first-pick Chris Morris (substituting for the absent Imran Tahir) with the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, Faf du Plessis – and later Tabraiz Shamsi – with the Paarl Rocks; each in one way or another started adding their input to the congregation that was making the decisions.
The selections petered out rapidly with interruptions only coming twice from the auditors’ table as the Durban Heat and the Paarl Rocks made a miscalculation each in their selections during round seven.
The lunch break followed after that and was dominated by media activity. Morris, Rabada, Shamsi and Lungi Ngidi each offered their time to the press as they answered our various questions spanning from the MSL, injury periods, the upcoming Australia tour and many other topics. I quickly concluded that there was clearly only one rule in this game, if you want to know something, just ask.
I also hunted Reeza Hendricks down during the interval because he owed me an interview and I urgently needed to remind him of that. True to his word, he was more than happy to speak to me after securing a spot in the Jozi Stars – he was the first name called immediately after the first interval as the Stars had first pick in that round.
With most of my work covered after extensive audio recording and video interviewing, I enjoyed a light chicken lunch before the final part of proceedings began.
Once the teams had been finalised, I told myself that I needed at least one more video from one of the big names in the room. Who better than the Proteas captain Faf du Plessis to offer analysis on the final teams after a long, tense and exhausting day.
I caught sight of him across the room, the Adonis at his handsome best while casually chatting with various people who were interested in his views of the occasion and experience. I bided my time from the corners of the room, not daring to approach while he had company – also while in the midst of battling through the intimidation I felt.
As soon as he was alone I immediately pounced (relying only on my tried and trusted techniques that were only honed in the few hours I spent in this very room) in order to bag the biggest victory of the day. ‘Hi Faf, I’m Anitha Madikizela from SA Cricket Magazine, keen for a quick video interview?’
‘Uhm, I’m not really sure if I can. You’ll have to speak to Lerato [Malekutu], our media correspondent, for permission,’ he responded.
Although a bit disappointed, this was the reaction I had been expecting from the get-go and I was honestly a bit shocked and pleasantly surprised that it only came at the end of the day – although understandably, it did come from the most in-demand player in SA cricket, the captain of the Proteas.
I had been ready for this challenge from the beginning and pep-talked myself into asking Lerato to assist plenty of times throughout the day, even though it was not required until now. She was more than happy to assist as she offered me plenty of players to interview before giving in to my wishes to speak to the Proteas captain. With her permission, he duly shared his excitement and passion for the Mzansi League as the pride and dedication to the local and inaugural T20 competition immediately shone through.
With that climactic interview done – and with me feeling increasingly proud of myself for putting my easily-intimidated and awkward soul in the firing line – my day was finally done. I had fulfilled my assignment after a long and exhausting day in the front lines.
The draft concluded a lot sooner than I had hoped but the experience was second to none. I will never forget my first experience in the wonderful behind-the-scenes world of such a momentous occasion and I hope it will be the start of many more to come.
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix