JOHANNESBURG - The national women’s team aside, there doesn’t feel like much good is coming out of South African cricket right at the moment.
Cricket South Africa’s acting chief executive, Pholetsi Moseki, says he understands why there is a pervading sense of pessimism that is cloaking the sport. The Social Justice and Nation Building (SJN) project, has shown an unedifying picture of South African cricket that is doing the sport and Cricket SA (CSA) as the organisation overseeing it, enormous reputational harm. But, Moseki believes, it’s not irreparable.
“We’ve been through a very difficult time,” Moseki said at an in-studio, virtual event that acted as a launch for the 2021/22 season this week. Similar events ahead of previous seasons have always been happy occasions, filled with optimism and excitement, with sponsors, players, CSA officials and media mixing together, swapping jibes about seasons past and what to expect about the upcoming summer.
This one was different and not only because the Covid pandemic forced everyone to watch it through a screen. Cricket hasn’t felt this detached from South Africa in the post-isolation years. Ask anyone about the sport right now and the replies range from despair to anger. “The last 24 months have probably been the hardest of my own career and my professional life - also personally. You have to admit that personally and for a lot of people we have been through the worst,” Moseki explained. He is right. From the administrative implosion, the threat of a government ban, sponsors (those that have remained) expressing concern, results on the field being iffy and then the SJN, the sport is suffering.
Because the men’s national side is the most watched cricket team in South Africa, anything related to it defines the entire sport. Had results been better, perhaps some of the negativity might have been reduced.
But the Proteas have been inconsistent, not helped by the pandemic, and then, as was the case with the team picked for the T20 World Cup, some curious selection.
Graeme Smith, as Director of Cricket, knew he was taking on a very difficult task when he initially accepted the job back in December 2019. He said he understood the public’s negative sentiment, but explained the mitigating circumstances. “There have been many challenges on the men’s side. Covid created massive issues logistically. (The last year) was an opportunity to give chances and expose more talent to international cricket and what’s required at that level,” he said.
“We wanted to see the team show massive improvement from the West Indies onward, to show that results were on an upward curve. It would have been nice to get over the line on a spinning wicket in Sri Lanka ( in the third ODI), but now we build into the (T20) World Cup. We have to get the team mentally ready, to unite them, to get them to play well so that hopefully they have a great World Cup.”
Both Smith and Moseki, have had taken on primary roles in ensuring that while a new Board of Directors settles in, Cricket SA can still function, even as all around them, the ship seems to be springing leaks. Tours still continue, a new season had to be planned and new sponsors sought. As Friday’s events in Manchester showed, Covid continues to create logistical mayhem.
In South African cricket, the testimonies at the SJN have been deeply painful. Understandably many, who would have regarded themselves as fans of the Proteas, have been left stunned and angered, that people they cheered for, regarded as heroes, have been exposed for disgusting behaviour in the past.
Cricket SA chose not to, as Moseki put it, engage in “running commentary,” about the SJN, choosing to allow the process to unfold and to work with the Office of the Transformation Ombudsman, headed by advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza.
“When the SJN process started, we knew it would be a hard process, but everyone in South African cricket knew we had to go through it. Ultimately we knew it was going to be hard, uncomfortable, but it was something we had to do,” said Moseki.
“All of us are looking forward to that final report from the ombudsman so that we can start that process of healing that cricket requires and take lessons from what has happened in the past and make sure it doesn’t happen in the future. It’s important that we allow the process to unfold, we don’t interfere or interrupt it, so that we get a report that can actually be used to make cricket better in South Africa.”
Through it all, Smith and Moseki, have retained a modicum of optimism. “You have to stay focused. You got involved to achieve and do well, impart knowledge and experience onto the system and improve South African cricket, so you have to stay focused on that, be professional and do the best that you can,” said the former Proteas captain.
“I am still hopeful that the worst has passed,” remarked Moseki. “We do have challenges, but it is getting better.”
“I am quite confident. The engagement with our partners and potential partners has been quite positive. People understand we have been through a difficult time. We are on an upward trajectory. I honestly feel it is an exciting time for CSA. We basically have a second chance to do better as an organisation, not just for us but cricket in South Africa,” he continued.
“Despite everything that is out there - which is understandable, a lot of people are passionate about the sport - there will be a lot of emotions, but compared to where we were even six months ago, to where we are now, I honestly feel that it is getting better.”