In coming for me, Enoch Nkwe has tried to defend the indefensible. He has embraced mediocrity, and his teams will be defined by it in big tournaments, writes RYAN VREDE.
On Thursday evening a Cricket South Africa employee reached out to SACricketmag.com via WhatsApp. The message read: “There is an opinion piece we’d like to submit to SA Cricket mag in reply to Ryan Vrede’s piece on the Proteas.”
Set aside the absurdity of cricket’s governing body using time and resources to craft a response to a column they disagree with, and consider that they frame that response as an “opinion piece”.
It certainly wasn’t that. It would be better characterised as an ego piece, commissioned by the director of cricket, Nkwe, and written by a communications team that should have advised him on the dangerous ground he was breaking and the terrible optics such a course of action would have for his organisation.
Instead, they complied. Considering CSA’s battered image and recent history laden with public relations disasters, including revoking the accreditation of five journalists who had been critical of the dire state of cricket in the country in 2019, one would have thought they’d be more careful with these matters.
But when emotion is high, rationality is low.
Nkwe’s primary mandate is to build world-champion teams. Having failed in his role to date, which includes overseeing a T20 World Cup exit at the hands of the Netherlands, it appears he has expanded the scope of his role to include attempts to silence voices that call out the team’s, and by extension, his, failure.
Nkwe describes the article in question in myriad ways, including “misinformed” and “unfair”. It further states that I’ve “oversimplified the complex dynamics of a cricket match” by citing a semi-final performance marked by reckless batting, a diabolical bowling powerplay, and a clutch of dropped catches.
Facts don’t bow to Nkwe’s feelings. It is a fact that Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram played reckless shots. It is a fact the Proteas conceded 60 runs in the first six overs of the match. It is a fact they dropped four catches. It is a fact that captain Temba Bavuma failed with the bat at the tournament by any reasonable metric. It is a fact that he conceded at the toss that he was not fully fit for a World Cup semi-final. And it is a fact that Nkwe empowered head coach Rob Walter with absolute control of selection, and hence is culpable in the decision to persist with a captain who compromised the team on multiple fronts.
One can willfully ignore the facts, but this was not that. Nkwe intimates my incompetency but confirms his in trying to engineer the perception of a journalist who is “misinformed”.
Nkwe also suggests that I’ve not given enough consideration to the pressures that come with the game at the highest level.
He seems to have confused my role with his. It is his job to help give the Proteas the best chance of success, especially at major tournaments. He achieves this, in part, by making astute coaching and support staff appointments, including personnel who are skilled in helping players navigate and thrive under pressure that defines World Cup knockout matches.
I have a full understanding of, and appreciation for, the game and the pressure that comes with it. But I’m a professional writer, not a professional athlete. I critically reflect on and analyse their response to pressure within the framework of the match. It is their job to ensure their temperament allows their talent to soar. In the absence of this quality, defeat is often the consequence.
And in defeat, the best and most successful leaders have the emotional intelligence to self-impose deep introspection, which leads them to honest appraisals of their team’s performance. This paves the way for future success.
Instead, Nkwe chose to direct a significant portion of his energy into soothing a battered ego by attacking a journalist’s opinion on his team’s performance. That, and building an argument for why it is acceptable to lose in the semi-final of a World Cup.
“First, reaching the semi-finals of such a prestigious tournament is no small feat,” Nkwe wrote. “It represents the culmination of intense hard work, dedication, and teamwork. To reduce this achievement to mere rhetoric overlooks the sheer effort and commitment required to compete at this level.”
Hard work, dedication, and teamwork are basic requirements for an elite international cricket team. You don’t get to claim these as exceptional qualities.
And reaching the semi-final of a World Cup is certainly a notable achievement. But once there, armed with a gifted side that had beaten Australia four consecutive times in 2023 coming into the semi-final, there is a reasonable expectation that the team gets over the line. They certainly can’t be applauded for losing it after posting a sub-par score, and then seriously compromising their challenge with a powerplay that featured loose bowling, and a perplexing refusal by the skipper to replace those bowlers.
Nkwe’s defense of the indefensible speaks to a mindset that embraces mediocrity. This mindset is reinforced by the cricket media, the vast majority of whom have long sacrificed their integrity at CSA’s altar. For these journalists, being liked by the organisation, players and coaches trump their duty to the public. Nkwe feels entitled to support, and they are willing to supply it in full measure.
This makes for a perilous situation in which a lack of accountability, dishonesty and delusion will ultimately continue to cost the Proteas at major tournaments.
Nkwe must have felt that reprimanding a journalist was a service to South African cricket. Indeed, he couldn’t be doing the team he has a mandate to make champions a greater disservice.
Finally, Nkwe’s “opinion piece” counters every point I make, with one notable exception.
I wrote: “In the wake of their T20 World Cup exit at the hands of the Netherlands in 2022, Nkwe promised South Africa they were setting up a panel to conduct a ‘clinical review’ of what happened. I trawled through the internet in search of the findings of this review, including combing through all 70 pages of CSA’s Integrated Report, published on 22 November 2022. Nothing.”
I’ve wondered why such a comprehensive response would ignore a matter as critical as a publicly promised and publicly shared review of yet another World Cup failure.
I guess we’ll never know.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images