Arendse on the Nel/Langeveldt fiasco

In his most frank interview yet, controversial Cricket South African president Norman Arendse gives Cape Times cricket writer Zaahier Adams his version of the Andre Nel-Charl Langeveldt fiasco, talks to us about his own cricket pedigree and his relationship with Proteas coach Mickey Arthur.

Much-acclaimed advocate by day, hard-hitting sports administrator by night, that is Norman Arendse. But despite Cricket South Africa's "main asset", the Proteas, winning on the field, it has been a turbulent period for the president.

Blamed by many as being the architect behind the scenes during the controversy that erupted when Proteas fast bowler Andre Nel was left out in favour of Charl Langeveldt on the supposed basis of his colour, Arendse has often faced criticism from all quarters.

All the hype has, however, not deterred the 50-year-old father of two to stick defiantly to his principles of ensuring that transformation will take place within South African cricket.

There is a perception that Norman Arendse is a law unto himself. How true is this perception and how has it come about? Are you as rough as people say you are?

It is unfortunate because cricket and soccer administrators and people who know me better will tell you that I'm very much a meeting man, that I'm a democrat. I actively supported the fight against apartheid. I did my early legal training under the late Dullah Omar, the former Minister of Justice. I come from that camp, so the point is that having fought actively against arbitrary rule and government, it is against my nature to act or run South African cricket in an arbitrary way. Whatever I have done as president of CSA is the result of decisions taken in a CSA meeting following a democratic process. I think people who want to portray me as an autocrat or a dictator have their own agenda, which is an undemocratic, anti-transformation agenda. My critics confuse a strong personality with being some kind of autocrat. I think I'm a very clear thinker and a determined individual. I don't know whether that makes you an autocrat. We at CSA spend many hours debating and discussing policy, and what comes out of those discussions is an agreement. More often than not it is a disgruntled minority who run to the media to try and distort and corrupt decisions democratically taken.

Can you and Proteas coach Mickey Arthur sit at the same table and enjoy a meal?

We have a good relationship and a good understanding. We absolutely love talking about cricket. We both love the game. I'm a cricket person and he's a cricket person. It was never an issue between Norman Arendse and Mickey Arthur. But unfortunately that was how it was portrayed by certain sections of the media because it suited their agenda. I was in fact part of a panel that interviewed and appointed Mickey Arthur as coach, notwithstanding that my good mate and personal friend Vinnie Barnes was also one of the candidates.

The Andre Nel-Charl Langeveldt fiasco that hit South African cricket just before the India tour a few months back really damaged CSA's image. Did anyone actually tell Nel that he was being excluded from the team on the basis of his colour?

I don't know what was said to Andre Nel. I can't comment on that. All I can say is that I did not interfere in the team selection. I never took him out and put in Charl Langeveldt. Whoever spread that story must take responsibility. It is absolute lies. The protocol is for the selection convener (Joubert Strydom) to hand me a sheet with a squad of 14 or 15 names on it. If the target of seven players of colour is not met, he is supposed to give me an explanation. If I'm not satisfied with the explanation, I then ask him to explain further or I send the team back. That never even happened in that particular case. When the team was presented to me, Langeveldt was in the team. He was always in the original team. The problem has been leaks to the media from the selectors themselves. The chief executive (Gerald Majola) and myself have identified it as the big cause of the problem. As you well know, selectors very rarely agree on a squad, maybe on a first XI, but not on a squad, so there's lots of horse trading that takes place. Eventually there is a team and one or other selector has not got his way. What has happened here and on several other occasions is that one or more have gone to tell certain players that "I wanted you in the team, but now you are not in the team" and that is clearly wrong. Selectors must take collective responsibility for the team that is eventually agreed. Given our fragile situation and the transformation policy of CSA, one or more selectors have only served to fuel an already very fragile situation. I am not a selector and I don't discuss the merits or demerits of players with selectors. I have never done that. Even the team that I "selected" for the Bangladesh tour by using my veto, which was later overturned by the chief executive, was not selected solely by me. Even that team was favoured by two of the five selectors. Two of the selectors favoured Langeveldt and Herschelle Gibbs over Nel and Neil McKenzie. I mean as a cricket person I have since acknowledged to Mickey and (Proteas captain) Graeme (Smith) that their call in favour of McKenzie was absolutely correct. But I reminded them that is exactly what selection is all about. Sometimes you fancy guys, sometimes you don't. I acknowledge they were absolutely correct in their backing of McKenzie. I now back him like any other Protea.

Do you feel that Langeveldt let down people like yourself and others who sacrificed their own playing careers by firstly withdrawing from the squad and then opting to sign a Kolpak deal instead of accepting a CSA contract?

Firstly, I have to say that Kolpak does not mean players are no longer not allowed to represent their country. We have cleared that up with the English and various councils. Langeveldt and any other Kolpak (player), like Jacques Rudolph, who I like a lot, or Ryan McLaren are not off limits to the selectors. If the selectors pick them, like Paul Harris was a Kolpak player with Warwickshire when he was selected for South Africa, it is up to them make that call. We can't stop them from making a living. But yes, it has been disappointing that Charl made himself unavailable, and also his turning down of a contract offered by CSA. The irony is that he would have been an automatic choice for England, and the further irony is that Andre Nel has benefited from his non-availability. It would be irresponsible to push (Lonwabo) Tsotsobe or (Wayne) Parnell or any of the other players of colour at this stage. It is also disappointing because (Langeveldt) had a meeting, which Haroon Lorgat facilitated, with me just about a week or so after the incident. He then promised me that he would make himself available to represent the country if selected, and what had been attributed to him in the media was not true. Yes, I have been disappointed by his subsequent actions. It's not a train smash, we have lots of talented youngsters who can take his place. It's just that Langeveldt is at the top of his game, like he showed in the local Pro20, and he would have been so effective on English wickets like he is showing for Derbyshire.

There is a precedent that I accepted the team that went to Pakistan in November in 2007 that only had five players of colour. Our approach to these matters is a flexible one. We have a target of seven, not a quota of seven. Provided there is an adequate explanation, it is not for me to second-guess them. It depends also on who we play, and that is the reason why I dug my heels in against Bangladesh. If we don't give players of colour an opportunity against the weakest-ranked Test-playing nation, when are we going to? That is the way to approach transformation: by looking at the opposition. You don't throw a youngster - black or white - in against Australia or on a tour of England. You can destroy that youngster's career.

Not many people are aware that you were a cricketer yourself. What was the highest level you played at?

I was selected for the Western Province Cricket Board team at the age of 16, as a top-order batsman to come in at No 3. At the time I also took loads of wickets with my off-spinners in the Top8 club competition. It was at a very young age to make my debut for Western Province. I was privileged to play with great players such as Lefty Adams, wicketkeeper Braima Isaacs and Saait and Rushdie Majiet. I got a duck on my debut, but in the cricketing world that is like a badge of honour as many greats have got a duck on debut. I did not play much provincial cricket until I turned 21, as my mentor, the former WPCB president Mr Hassan Howa, had a rule that you could not play "B" team cricket once you have played "A" team cricket. The problem that I had was as a promising youngster that being selected at the age of 16 to play provincial cricket quickly made me realise that there was a glass ceiling to at what the highest level you could play at. Where do you go from there?

What a lot of people don't actually know is that when I went to study law at UCT aged 16 in 1975, I attended UCT practices who were then coached by Englishman Tom Reddick, a true legend of the game. At the time I had a fair idea of politics, but was no radical as my father was part of the trade union. I was subsequently selected to play in the UCT First XI for the first game of the season. It was then that I received my first political education. Alan Zinn, Robbie Ford, Lenin Jingles, all really big Sacos guys, at the time physically, and I mean physically, sat me down in the student union building and told me that I was not aware of what I was doing and explained the role sport played in politics at the time. After the conversation, I returned home to inform by father and two elder brothers what had transpired. They agreed that I should not play. I then went back to Reddick to explain why I could not play. He did not want to accept it as he believed I would be striking a blow against apartheid by playing. I was forced to explain the double standards resolution to him. The standard of club cricket was very strong back then, with guys like Peter Kirsten and Garth le Roux playing on a regular basis, so that should give you a fair reflection of my abilities as a player.

What is your favourite cricket ground?

Newlands, because of its rich, rich history and, of course, its location.

And the batsman you most enjoy watching? You may only pick one!

Probably Herschelle - He reminds me a lot of the way I played and many our guys played cricket, always looking to play our shots, like Terry Richards and Neil Fortune.

If there is one thing you could change in the game of cricket, what would it be?

I would like to make more opportunities available to players of colour, both on and off the field. Far too few people of colour, especially black Africans, are involved in the business of cricket and in the administration of the game. Actually, on the field we not doing too badly, if you look at schools, amateur and franchise levels. There are lots more names coming through. Off the field it is a worry. I'm not talking about pushing players of colour into the national team or introducing quotas or anything like that. I'm talking about players of colour who showed tremendous talent, promise and potential at school level, amateur level, franchise level who disappear because of socio-economic factors. I know that from playing club cricket with the guys. The best example is Dean MacHelm, the former Province left-arm spinner. He was highly rated by none other than Allan Lamb, but Dean had to travel by train to Newlands from Kuils River. And there came a time in his life, around 25, 26 years, when he was supposed to be in his prime when he had to make a choice. And unfortunately the game was not that professionalised yet to accommodate him. There are far more pressing transformational issues to debate than how many players of colour are in the national team. Quite frankly, that is the least of my issues. It's a no-brainer there. I agree with those critics that we must address the imbalances at grassroots level. We've been let down by the state, as there is a misconception that there is so much money in the game, when the truth is by far the biggest slice of our budget goes into the national team. They are our main asset, so we must keep our national players happy. They play on the world stage that is where we negotiate broadcast rights, so they are our main business.

Do you ever receive phone calls from former SACB players of that era claiming that you, in your current position, are not doing enough for the transformation of the game at the highest level?

When there is an issue of national selection or criticism of my role as president of CSA, as was prominently featured in the media recently, there was overwhelming positive response from them. I was encouraged, comforted by this response. I even had to ask my secretary just to take calls because so many people were calling. Having been born on the Cape Flats, and also having played and administered soccer at a high level, I know a lot of people. A lot of the cricketers whom I must mention who were certainly good enough to represent our country like Georgie van Oordt, Vinnie Barnes, Neil Fortune, Terry Richards, Randall Cupido, Jonny Kleinveldt, Goolam Allie and Muis Allie are the guys who would phone me up and say I'm doing the right thing . And even just ordinary people in the street, whether it's here in Cape Town or Johannesburg where I also practise, have good things to say. I was very comforted that I enjoyed their support because that is where I come from. I get my mandate from those people. And also all the Western Province Cricket Association clubs, black and white, who supported me during my time as president. This youngster Vernon Philander is actually a prototype of Georgie van Oordt: a very clever bowler, an absolute natural.

We know that you practise law when you are not involved in cricket matters. What is the most high-profile sport and non-sport-related cases have you been involved with?

The most high-profile sports case was the Ellis Park enquiry in 2001, where I represented "the football family" which is Safa, the PSL and the two big clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. That was an enquiry into the death of 43 people, which ran for a good six months at the Johannesburg High Court. A lot of good came out of that enquiry. The majority of the safety features that you now see at matches, like all-seating, all-ticketing and stewards on the stands are all features that come out that enquiry. I was priviledged to be involved in that enquiry. Non-sport, the most high-profile case I've been involved in is the Hefer Commission. It was also called the "spy enquiry". It was to determine whether or not Bulelani Ngcuka, who was the former NPA boss, was an apartheid spy. I acted for the then Minister of Justice. The case was televised and many people told me they were glued to it on TV.

Do you have aspirations of a top ICC post?

No, I've got aspirations to become a judge and I hope to be able to serve cricket in any capacity. I come from the grassroots and club cricket and I will go back to the grassroots and club cricket.

Who's better: Warne or Murali?

I would probably choose Shane Warne. Why? Because I think Shane Warne is probably a better bowler on all surfaces, he is such a wonderful thinker, and such a great competitor.

Will Twenty20 rule the cricket world?

Twenty20 is going to become the focal point of the game, the growth point of the game. The game seemed to be stagnating and even began losing support, to soccer and especially in this country, to rugby. So T20 has come at just the right time. If we, as administrators of the game, can convert just a small percentage of T20 followers to Test or one-day cricket, then we've done well.

What we've decided at Cricket South Africa, is to introduce a T20 tournament at tertiary level, much like rugby's successful Varsity Cup that was recently held. We are also going to launch a national schools T20 competition and we're are also looking at an interprovincial level for amateur sides across the 11 unions. It's been a godsend for cricket. It has already changed the game, I mean the England v New Zealand Test finished in four days. There are now lots more results; two out of three Tests now finish within the five days unless there are weather interruptions. Guys are scoring a lot quicker which makes for more exciting cricket.

It is likely that some players may prefer to play only T20 cricket, but that is not on the cards at the moment. When national and franchise players are contracted, they are expected to play any form of cricket, but increasingly guys are specialising in one form of the game, like Sevens rugby players or the traditional 15-man game. Our Test team is already different to the ODI team, and more so the T20 team.

I think what the IPL has shown us is that you still have to play proper cricket, hit the ball in the middle of bat. I mean if you look at some of the stars of the IPL like Rohit Sharma, Tendulkar and Robin Uthappa. Jayasuriya still bats the way he normally bats in any type of cricket, same with Gilchrist. They both bat like they've always batted and you cannot regard them as sloggers. Even Jacques Kallis has showed on occasion that you can play "proper cricket" shots and still finish with a strike rate above 100.

What do you think of women's cricket?

There is a huge future for women's cricket. An interesting statistic is in fact that 50 percent of cricket supporters are women. So women clearly have a huge interest in the game other than the looks of some of the cricketers. One of the key challenges for administrators throughout the world is to grow the game and look for new markets, so there are lots of opportunities there.

Are you a Stormers fan? Who is going to win the Super 14 final?

I love rugby. I watch the Stormers whenever I can. If I'm in front of the TV, I'll watch the final on Saturday. I've always been a big Crusaders fan. The Crusaders and Stormers are my teams.

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