Remember when club cricket mattered?

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

ONCE club cricket was the gateway to great things for those who played it well, an important part of delivering the game’s finest players to its highest stage.

The system was well established even in polarised SA. Clubs were either black or white, or rich or poor or somewhere inbetween. But they served the same purpose. It was up to them to find the next generation of stars for their respective representative teams.

No longer. Clubs have become home to petty professionals – in the Western Cape top players are paid between R6000 and R8000 a month – and grand amateurs who keep at it weekend after weekend, summer after summer, for the best reason there is: the love of the game. Or perhaps their refusal to heed the creaking creep of middle age.

But money is winning this quiet struggle. That much is plain from the details of the final of national club championships at the weekend. In a thrilling match a Durban-based team that used to be called Crusaders beat a side formerly known as Maties, or Stellenbosch University. These days they prefer to be addressed as Hollywoodbets.Net Crusaders and Steinhof Maties. For the record Crusaders won a thrilling match by one wicket. Considering cricket’s ongoing matchfixing malaise Crusaders would have also won any prize given for “Most Inappropriate Sponsor”.

Not that any of the players involved in the final are likely to be among the next generation of SA stars – rare commodities needed to keep the cricket industry afloat in years to come. Accordingly they are sourced at primary school or in the development ranks and plugged into a process that, thanks to years of experience as junior internationals, will deliver them onto the highest stage as made-to-order as test cricketers.

Becoming an international player used to be a journey involving many stops, some of them dependent on luck. Now it is a carefully controlled connection of dots. Club cricket is not one of those dots.

“We’re still in good shape; we get a lot of guys coming to join us because we have good facilities and good management,” Dale Hermanson, the chairperson of the cricket section at Wanderers in Johannesburg, said on Thursday. “But at some of the other clubs they are battling to fill teams.”

Wanderers is a blue-chip club that can count many international players in a range of codes as their own. But, asked when last a cricketer who sprang to prominence there played for SA, Hermanson demurred: “The guys are just not getting picked from their clubs. They’re only getting picked from the universities or representative under-19 sides.”

Worse yet, because cricket has become a profession more than a vocation in SA the number of those who might have played it into their creaking years because they enjoy it – rather than as a career option – is dwindling.

“Some of the kids, as soon as they realise they are not going to make it to the big time as cricketers, they just give up and go play water polo,” Hermanson said.

There’s no money to be made from water polo in SA. But at least rain won’t stop play.

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