There are all sorts of rumours doing the rounds about Cricket SA at the moment. Some genuinely put the fear of God into those whose livelihood stems from the game, while others raise a stern eyebrow.
In the current climate, every single move of the powers that be will be under more scrutiny than ever before. And rightly so. After what happened with the Global League, there is a twitchiness associated with some of the press releases that come out of Cricket House.
The problem with the latest round of rumours is that they haven’t even been publicised yet, but they are of such a concerning nature that the reaction has not waited for the announcement. The baby has come before the pregnancy.
Some of the latest ideas are still supposedly at the brainstorm stage, but some appear to be a long way down the road. For the sake of the game in this country, we can only pray that it all ain’t so. 1. Challenging cricket unions to partner with municipalities to lobby for games. 2. Dismantling the first-class system, and going to 12 franchises.
At whatever price, selling the soul of SA, by putting up traditions as sacred as Christmas up for sale to the highest bidder is suicide. Yes, a municipality might stump up R20 million for the England Test, but then their coffers would be dry forever more. And then, what happens next?
The same has been seen in football, where municipalities like Ethekwini put up millions for clubs like Kaizer Chiefs to play their games in Durban. The figures on those deals are always murky, because no one is ever so eager to publish shortfalls.
You can see in the mostly empty stadia that the return on investment is debatable at best. That is only one half of it. Mixing sport and politics is often a recipe for controversy and, in the current social climate, does Cricket SA really want to be associated with a partnership that takes taxpayers’ money away from essential service deliveries, and ploughed into a once-off international?
The stain on the character would outlast any profits garnered.
The New Year’s Test works because every one in Cape Town knows when it is. The players love it, the stadium is full, and the spectacle remains what it is because it is an unmovable feast. There is a reason why Christmas stays on the 25th, and why other grounds around the world have traditional fixtures. The MCG will never lose Boxing Day. Never. Just as a Lord’s Test always signals the height of the summer in England. The masses flock to it as a box to tick off one’s bucket list.
Even in these times of looming austerity, CSA would do well to embrace tradition. Make the current establishments even more attractive. Don’t hawk them to the highest bidder, because those kind of deals are based on liquid assets and influence.
Tradition, much like Test cricket, is built on consistency.
The other major concern is the plan to wipe away the level between schools and the franchise system. It would be an absolute disaster to do so. Players need to take baby steps, before making the big jump to the paid ranks.
You wash that tier away, and the surplus numbers at the expanded franchise level would make for a diluted standard of cricket. The franchise system, as it stands, works.
It is producing Proteas who are ready. Because they have taken a path that allows them to grow accordingly. Take away the first-class structure and you then ask schoolboys to run while they are in nappies. It is a recipe for disaster, and the game might never recover from the upheaval.
These are dangerous times, where dodgy decision can alienate players and stakeholders to the point where your genuine assets, the prime players, do like the West Indies, and simply not sign central contracts.
Uncertainty at home leads to that, and CSA would do well to remember that. Short-term gains in selling an England Test would have a detrimental effect for many other facets of the game. In that sense, what little juice they get out of the lemon they are presenting, would most certainly not be worth the squeeze. Pray it ain’t so.