SA cricket – 20 years on from unity
BALANCE – it’s one of cricket’s great fundamentals. As a batsman it’s critical to your approach, and in plotting strategy to dismiss batsmen, you’ll often hear about “finding the balance between defence and attack”.
When discussions started taking place in the late 1980s about unifying cricket between the South African Cricket Board (SACB) – which looked after the interests of black players and clubs – and the South African Cricket Union (SACU), which did the same for the largely white sector, there was concern over striking the right balance in the talks.
“(SACU) were very keen that South Africa get back to playing international cricket, and re-establishing the national team,” Cassim Docrat, who was part of those talks and later, became one of the original board members of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, remembered. “We (from SACB) wanted the playing fields levelled, opportunities created (for black players) and development to be prioritised.”
These were, Docrat, recalled, “fundamental pillars” for creating unification.
In principle, both sides accepted each other’s stances, though there were still reservations about South Africa’s historic trip to India at the end of 1991.
“Some of the (SACB) guys felt it was too easy and that we should have waited.”
However, the success of that tour and in particular the welcome the national team received from India’s people, whose government had been steadfast in its stance against apartheid, convinced those old SACB members that having the national team back in the international fold was intrinsic to the development principles which were so vital to addressing past imbalances.
“At that time and for a few years after, South Africa was the most popular international team, everyone wanted our team to tour their country, because of the historical significance,” Docrat added.
Trust between the administrators didn’t come easily.
“Some of us felt, they (SACU) didn’t want us running cricket because they didn’t believe we had the necessary administrative experience. But what they forgot was we’d organised a tour to Kenya, a guy like Basil D’Oliveira came through our system, and in order to maintain the upkeep of our facilities, you’d have guys with cake-tins going door to door to get money. Maybe we didn’t have the big stadiums like Newlands or the Wanderers, but we had the heart and were willing.”
Seeking a balance between the national team and the game’s development, particularly its growth in the black population, remains a critical task for Cricket South Africa (CSA), even now, 20 years after unity was achieved.
“We need to keep asking ourselves: ‘are we bridging the gap and bringing in more players of colour? Are we making a difference to the rank and file or do we only care about what happens at national level,” Docrat pondered.
Of late, particularly following the retirement of Makhaya Ntini, the number of black African players coming through the system and challenging for positions in the national side and even at franchise level has become a critical question.
“It’s something that is increasingly becoming an issue. We have seen that having a quota (four per starting XI) for the number of black players in a side has worked. It has given us players like a Makhaya, Hashim (Amla), Ashwell (Prince), and because of having it there, once those players had proved themselves, they became merit selections.
“We see the coloured and Indian players coming through, but sadly there are not enough black African players. It may be a case of establishing a quota, like we do at junior level, where each team must have at least one black African player.
“But we also need to be mindful of maintaining standards. If you are not selecting on merit it eventually catches up with you.”
One of the problems facing CSA is the transition between junior level and what takes place in provincial and franchise teams.
“People see the names of these kids on the lists, and then they disappear at the higher level,” Docrat said. “There’s a perception out there, that black players aren’t given enough of a chance. People look at Jacques Kallis, and they see how he struggled initially, but the selectors at the time stuck with him and look at him now, one of the greatest players this country has ever had.”
The same could be said for Hashim Amla, though unlike Kallis, he was actually dropped, before forcing his way back into the South African side.
“As much as we on the inside know that everyone is given a fair chance, the perception from the outside is different; people want to see black players given a fair chance,” Docrat said.
While for much of the unified period Cricket SA (or the UCB as it was previously known) was always held in high regard for its clean administration, events of the last 18 months have cast a dark shadow over the running of the game.
“It’s tarnished the image, that’s for sure,” said Docrat, who ironically is now chairman of the Gauteng Cricket Board, which first highlighted potential problems with the 2009 contract with the Indian Premier League (IPL).
As a result that (Gauteng) Board was removed by CSA, and a new one, under Docrat, was put in place.
“The quicker this is finalised the better. Cricket can’t be saddled with this, the spectators will stay away. So will sponsors. If there is one thing I am glad about, it’s that it hasn’t filtered down to the playing field – the way the game is played, is still being done properly. If what is taking place now with CSA filtered down to the playing field, then we should all be very worried.”
The current mess needs a quick resolution, which will ensure firmer and more honest leadership because according to Docrat the administering of the game in South Africa faces a critical decade.
“It’s become a more costly affair and the provinces are suffering. Just the upkeep of stadiums – what kind of rollers, drainage at grounds, scoreboards – things the ICC demand of an international venue – cost a lot of money and if CSA don’t address just those basic area there will be problems.”
Also there’s the task of identifying administrators for the next 20 years and Docrat, a long-time official, is worried.
“We would normally look to our clubs to extract the next administrators. But it is harder than it was years ago.
“People just don’t have time to become heavily involved anymore, people have other priorities. We are battling to find them at club level.
“Let’s look at someone like Shaun Pollock, who had a great playing career and may fit the profile of a fine administrator, but he is offered lucrative contracts to commentate. Others move into coaching. It’s a time issue – not having enough of it – and a money issue, which is the same as the time one.”
Domestic cricket also needs to identify itself with the public again in an era where it is increasingly facing threats from various other forms of entertainment, not to mention the other two big sports.
“If I am asked what days do I identify with cricket, I don’t know the answer. Rugby is played on a Friday and Saturday, even football is slowly establishing itself, but cricket? We need to go back to reclaiming Saturday in the summer.”
But as Docrat points out, television, which has poured more money into the sport than any other entity recently, rules. “Sponsors don’t mind having 200 spectators in the stadium, if they know they’ll get 10 000 watching on TV.”
It’s all about finding the right balance, just as it’s always been these last 20 years.