• SA cricket’s precarious position

    It might get worse before it gets better, writes Gary Lemke in his latest SA Cricket Magazine column.

    In sifting through the wreckage of a World Cup campaign, I came across this quote which made me stop and think that while the players were at the wheel, Cricket South Africa (CSA) gave them a patched-up VW Beetle instead of a Ferrari to take to the competition.

    ‘We wanted the IPL players pulled out of the tournament earlier. That didn’t happen. Australia withheld their fast bowlers from going to the tournament. But every situation is different. Australia isn’t trying to save 600 million, or whatever, like CSA is.’

    If that quote is accurate, it doesn’t absolve the players of the blame of producing a meek World Cup ‘performance’, but it goes some way in explaining what they were up against heading to the UK. This is not the first time South African sport administrators and the players/athletes haven’t been singing from the same hymn sheet.

    Coach Ottis Gibson is the man quoted. He clearly reckons CSA didn’t help the cause of the campaign and makes the comparison with its Cricket Australia counterparts. Only a year ago Australia had hit rock bottom with ‘Sandpapergate’ and the year-long bans to David Warner and Steve Smith, yet they recovered in time to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

    South Africa, on the other hand, lost five of their nine matches and were eliminated before two of their victories came in ‘dead rubbers’ against Sri Lanka and Australia.

    During the tournament the ‘news’ also emerged that AB de Villiers had made himself available for selection ‘on the day of the 15-man squad announcement’ on 18 April. Yet CSA waited until the media had broken the story on 6 June to explain their side, taking a couple of hours to react to a media leak they obviously had not anticipated.

    ‘For Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson to share AB’s desire to be included in the squad on the day we announced our squad was a shock to us,’ a back-pedalling selection convenor Linda Zondi offered in a statement.

    Yet, on the day (18 April), they deemed it irrelevant to share AB’s last-minute ‘shock’ request with South Africans, which would have put the matter to rest there and then. The public would have backed their stance. Instead, CSA attempted to sweep it under the carpet and the decision backfired, proving a distraction to players already feeling the pressure after defeats to England, Bangladesh and India.

    Yet, there is something around the official statements on AB, from CSA and the players, that doesn’t wash with me.

    According to De Villiers, it was a private chat between himself and Du Plessis that was leaked. You don’t need to be Inspector Clouseau to work out that the ‘leak’ must have therefore come from one of the two, who presumably then ‘forwarded’ the WhatsApp discussion? And all this happened a few hours before the official squad announcement. Hectic!

    Not helping the overall cause is how deep CSA’s financial hole is, given that Gibson is on record as saying it’s ‘600 million or so’. Reports suggested R654m. Plus, the players (represented by the SA Cricketers’ Association) and CSA are locked in a legal battle over finances. What if they need to save closer to R800m than R600m?

    Sure, the players didn’t perform, and it was obvious the selectors gambled – and lost – on the fitness of Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi, while Kagiso Rabada was operating around 139-140km/h when other fast bowlers were 10km/h quicker. At the World Cup, one of the sport’s most revered talents saw his stocks fall because he wasn’t 100%.

    So, it again gave more fuel to those cynics who reckon it’s harder to get out of the Proteas side than into it. That they won only three of their nine matches and lost to Bangladesh, Pakistan and New Zealand on neutral territory, means the state of South African cricket is more precarious than I imagined – and that in no small part is down to what’s happened in the boardroom.

    Photo: Gallo Images

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    Gary Lemke