Cricket SA. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/SYDNEY SESHIBEDI
Cricket SA. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/SYDNEY SESHIBEDI

On Monday, Cricket SA’s members council (MC) took the decision to officially sanction the appointment of the nine-person interim board of independent directors to run the game and the operational side of the organisation for at least the next three months.

The stand-off which preceded their U-turn had the potential to be the most damaging crisis in the history of SA cricket, and it is a history littered with crises.

In years to come it may not be remembered that way, if only because the crisis was averted. But if it is true that we learn lessons from history, it is worth recalling just how deep into madness the country’s highest cricket authority had descended at the penultimate meeting last Friday evening.

There were just two dissenting voices out of 13 when the motion was passed to defy sports minister Nathi Mthethwa for a second time and renege on their promise to him to appoint the interim board.

Even worse was the opinion from their lawyers, Bowman Gilfillan, and company secretary Welsh Gwaza that should Mthethwa’s ministry place the organisation into administration and cancel the England tour, costing Cricket SA R70m in broadcast revenue, they would have a strong case against him in court.

Even if it had been legally possible to recover the money, it would have taken years and bled the game dry. But the mere fact that taking the government to court was discussed illustrates just how out of touch with reality the game’s senior administrators had become. Most are likely still there and have made this decision under duress.

Some on the members council met a delegation from the interim board on Sunday in an attempt to reach a compromise. Or at least compromise was the intention of the council.

“We had a four-a-side meeting for over three hours and there was a lot of back and forth regarding issues related to the role of the members council and the manner in which judge [Zak] Yacoob would manage the conflict of interest relating to one member of the interim board. This took a considerable amount of time and explanation,” said one member of the interim board.

“We impressed upon them the urgency of the situation in light of the minister’s letter. We tried to make it clear that they don’t have the time to obfuscate and delay.”

The chair of the interim board, retired Constitutional Court judge Yacoob, said on Friday that his dealings with the MC and Cricket SA executive, including Gwaza, had seen them behave in a manner which was “uncooperative, difficult, unresponsive, arrogant and sometimes rude. That has been part of the problem. We have been trying to get information from them, trying to bring them to account,” Yacoob said. Some of their behaviour was “hooliganish and thuggish in the extreme”.

But he also opined that it was not motivated by “personal” animosity. “That they’ve got too much to hide is the only inference that can be drawn. That opinion may be wrong, and they can prove it wrong by saying, ‘come into our offices and look wherever you like, you will never find that we did anything wrong’. If they do that, I will withdraw my opinion and apologise.”

There remain alarm bells everywhere, the most obvious being that the original ministerial announcement of the interim board suggested  they would “report to” the MC rather than “provide reports to” it. 

“I’m quite certain the minister was saying we should report to them in the sense that we keep them advised of what we are doing. We try to work together as much as possible. We try and consult with them as much as possible and we make sure we take them into account in the work that we do. They interpreted that to mean, wrongly, that we are accountable to them and we must do what they tell us to do. Or what they authorise us to do. And we were not prepared to accept that,” Yacoob said.

“Perhaps we began interfering too quickly and too soon. They became very uncomfortable. It could be said that we should have bided our time, treated them nicely, pretended we were going to be good to them. Then they might have confirmed us. Maybe that was a mistake on our part,” Yacoob said with polite sarcasm.

But Yacoob is a highly respected man of wisdom and, where and when necessary, diplomacy and tact. No doubt he will find a way to assuage the many battered egos in cricket’s most senior boardroom. It will be for effect only, however, because he has made it perfectly clear that he and his fellow interim directors are taking their work “extremely seriously” and for “the good of cricket as a whole”.

“I say to the members council that we will do our work fairly and properly. But that does not mean we will be nice to everybody,” Yacoob said.

If the contest on the field between the Proteas and England, who arrived in Cape Town from London this morning, is anything like as spicy as that set to play out behind the scenes, we are all in for a treat.

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