Picture: 123RF/RICHARD THOMAS
Picture: 123RF/RICHARD THOMAS

Despite the Proteas leaving for the West Indies on Monday, there is an uneasy quiet; even the cricket social media has gone silent. This could be the lull before the storm or simply disinterest.

The selection of the Proteas squads to tour the West Indies barely caused a ripple in the media. There has been no in-depth article on AB de Villiers’s final retirement. No questions were asked about whether Simon Harmer, Kyle Abbott or other former Kolpak players were considered for the tour. Chris Morris and Faf du Plessis’s absence received scant investigation.

That is a dangerous place for SA cricket to be in. If supporters and media lose interest it will lead to fewer sponsors and broadcasters and inevitably an increasing amateur future.

The former cricketers, players and fans feel helpless. The required gigantic shift to rectify the malaise seems too difficult. 

The diverse cricket public is split, similar to in the apartheid years. SA cricket’s “Truth and Reconciliation” initiative could produce full reconciliation, if handled correctly. If not, it will increase the divide. Hopefully, it will build a better united cricket nation by learning from the mistakes.

The implementation of the interim board’s recommendations should be fast-tracked. Any delay will just add to the belief that nothing will really change. The SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) is an irritant, and the members’ council could easily have put that issue to bed with a public announcement that their decision was a unanimous one, that they support it fully. They still can, of course.

The greatest challenge now is to find the right people to lead.

Receiving end

That leadership style must not be a fuzzy, wishy-washy one. It has to be tough and uncompromising like that of fine cricket captains, who are skilled, passionate about the game, firm in their beliefs, unafraid to take decisions, great communicators and open to ideas from others. They reach for a greater purpose.

I was led by Mike Brearley, Mike Procter, Barry Richards and David Dyer to name a few. They all had vision and executed tough plans to succeed. Often I was on the receiving end of their barbs to prod me to a better performance.

“Get that piano off your back,” from my Natal University captain David Dyer. “You call yourself a first-class fast bowler and you can’t get number 11 out,” from Natal captain Barry Richards. “I am bringing on John Emburey for a bit of pace,” from Middlesex captain Mike Brearley. All designed to get something more out of me, and the barbs did!

The crowd too had their say. In PE one particular spectator wore a black denim outfit with a black Stetson hat and always sat next to the commentary box behind the bowlers’ arm at St Georges Park. Year after year, when I had bowled the second ball of the innings, he would shout, “OK Van der Bijl, you have shown us your leg break, now bowl the googly!” Oh, we had fun.

The late Clive Rice’s father, Pat Rice, was a charming and dignified man. Many years ago he was sitting incognito in the public stands at the old Berea Park Ground watching Clive walk in to bat. A local supporter in front of Pat stood up and shouted, “Boo, Rice! Boo, Rice! Boo!” As he sat down he turned to Pat and said, “I always do that to Ricey, it turns him on.” Pat in his graceful way replied, “Oh really.”

Excited buzz

Fans lift their heroes as they did Phil Mickelson last weekend to help him win the PGA Championship.

Last week, Steenberg Golf Club hosted a Graeme Pollock tribute golf day. It was a day brimful of young and old cricket lovers, passionate about their golf and their heroes. So many of our great players such as Barry Richards, Mike Procter, Omar Henry and Peter Kirsten were there. It could have been a wedding such was the happy and excited buzz.

It did however reflect the current divide with an almost exclusive white attendance. The integration of diverse SA players and fans has never been achieved. We remain boxed and stuck in our personal histories. It is essential that we reach out and embrace each other fully.

Yet, that golf day reflected something positive. The passion is there and can be reignited quickly across SA. The new Cricket SA board must be convened soon. The diverse and complicated SA landscape with all its byways needs uncompromising and visionary leaders.

The new board can take heart that we, the public, are in our starting blocks. We can start by supporting our Proteas in the West Indies.

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