Sadly for Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers, Vernon Philander, Farhaan Behardien, Chris Morris and Quinton de Kock the summer of 2011/12 won’t be remembered for their feats on the cricket field.
Bowling Australia out for 47? Huh. A second Test double hundred for this country’s finest cricketer? So what. Fifty one wickets in seven Tests? Pah. New stars emerging on the domestic scene? Call me another day.
No, the summer of 2011/12 will be remembered for boardroom tussles, government appointed inquiries, bonuses, forensic audits, resignations, suspensions, recommendations and “insurrectionary phrase mongering.”
It was a summer in which not even the finest feats of the national team could overshadow the chaos which unfolded in the administration of Cricket South Africa. As the season ended on Sunday, the administration had disintegrated. The chief executive is facing a disciplinary inquiry and a steering committee is going to seek direction on the creation of a new Board of Directors in line with the most important recommendation contained in Judge Chris Nicholson’s report.
It has left the game in a state of limbo, CSA look limp, and all this while the national team faces its toughest 12 months since the glory days of 2008.
Smith and the national players deserve huge credit for steering clear of the controversy. Don’t mistake their silence for apathy. The agreement with the players’ body, the SA Cricketers Association, was that they speak with one voice.
The national team’s manager, Mohammed Moosajee, has kept the players fully informed about the happenings in the boardroom and it was telling that in the wake of the Nicholson recommendations being made public, the players pointed to the appointment of the new, more independent Board of Directors as the most important task that CSA needed to undertake.
There will be a number of critical decisions for that Board to make and right at the top of the agenda is whether there needs to be an expansion of the number of professional teams. The talk of going back to the original 12 provinces appeared to be part of the broader political battle taking place inside CSA, with Gerald Majola using it as a way to garner support and thus stay on in his position.
As the Impi showed in the domestic T20 competition, a lot more thought needs to go into any talk of expansion and a number of top coaches have said there is only scope for a maximum of eight franchises. It will be up to the new Board of Directors to decide how that process unfolds.
What we have seen is that the current system of six franchises has worked to make the national team as strong as at any time since unity. Over the last four years the South African team has remained among the top two Test teams. Sadly on the back of their magical triumph in Australia in 2008/09 they haven’t been able to create a dynasty like the West Indies side of the 1970s and 80s or the Australian team of the 2000s.
This year gives them another chance to do so as they undertake tours to England and Australia while they also try and pick up the elusive ICC trophy when the T20 World Cup takes place in Sri Lanka in September.
The past season provided another example of their infuriating habit of not taking the step up and asserting their dominance over the opposition. Eight Tests brought four wins, two defeats and two draws. Who knows how the series against Australia would have turned out had there been a third Test? The two which were played produced an extraordinary three-day match at Newlands, while the Wanderers match went down to the final hour of the fifth day. The Sri Lanka series produced a mixed bag which typifies this South African team. A thumping win at Centurion was followed by another defeat at what is now officially South Africa’s hoodoo ground, Kingsmead. They bounced back magnificently at Newlands however, riding on the back of Kallis’ second Test double century and some more outstanding bowling from the find of the season, Philander.
Perhaps calling Philander the find of the season is mis-placed. If anything his explosion onto the Test arena is a tribute to the domestic first class system. Philander had been a part of the national limited overs sides in 2007, but to say he looked out of place would be an understatement. He was a completely different player this summer, one who took the harsh lessons learnt four years ago, applied them to his game at domestic level and came out a better player for it.
He devastated the Australians, Sri Lankans and New Zealanders with his unerring accuracy and the ability to move the ball both ways off the seam. While he was the star of the show, he became that because of the outstanding contributions from the rest of the most balanced attack South Africa has had for 20 years. Steyn remains a marvel, Morné Morkel relentless, Imran Tahir a creative addition and Kallis has become a bowling bully. Then there’s Marchant de Lange waiting in the wings. Smith’s had a lot of fun rotating them and in England it will be interesting to see how that attack shapes up in conditions that favour pace and bounce (The Oval), seam and swing (Headingley) and seam (Lord’s).
De Villiers has stepped up to the captaincy of the limited overs sides with surprising honesty and a willingness to learn. Does he do too much? Probably. Has it affected his batting? Not in the least. He’s an inspirational sort, not unlike Smith, and how he measures up against another young captain in the shape of Alastair Cook in the winter will make for fascinating viewing.
De Villiers’ biggest test will be that T20 tournament in Sri Lanka. South Africans are desperate for a tangible reward for all the good play we’ve seen from the national team recently. In fact they’re just desperate for a trophy that says “ICC Champions” on it, regardless of the format. A useful young group of players will come together for that event, including Richard Levi, De Lange and hopefully Berhardien whose composure under pressure was a feature of the MiWayT20 Challenge. - The Star