What awaits cricket in 2016?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Durban

CRICKETMINDED South Africans will have more reasons to forget 2015 than to remember it. Here are a few reasons to keep a close eye on the ball in 2016:

CSA v SA

Cricket suits have a hard job in this country. Few trust them to do the right thing, and with good reason considering their past performance. But they are the only suits the game has, and it is up to them to transform cricket racially as well as keep it afloat financially and as a major sport in a society not short on opium for the masses. That these goals are, in fact, complementary and not at odds is not an argument heard often enough. In the ranks of the reactionaries who reckon they own cricket, transformation is taken to mean a lowering of standards. That South Africans of all races and cultures play cricket in significant numbers, and that the national team will be stronger if more people are given more opportunities to play at a high level, and that all that will benefit cricket as an industry and as a sport and a social force for good are notions that will silence too many bars in too many of SA’s towns and cities. The test team’s current troubles only fuel this fire, but how many of those doing the moaning are willing to acknowledge that SA would not have become the No. 1 test team without the contributions of major players like Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and Vernon Philander? Fancy that – none of them are white. All that said, the suits do themselves no favours by behaving as if South Africans are too dim to see the obvious: there is clearly a quota in place in the national team, and going into the second test against England at Newlands a black African has played in every match in every format since the World Cup. That there is a lot of corporate doubletalk and not a lot of damn straight talk coming out of administrators’ mouths. The suits have no clothes. South Africans know this. But the suits are also trying hard to keep cricket relevant. They need to try harder in 2016, starting with being more honest with the people in whose name they purport to be looking after the game. Those people should do the same in their views on the suits and what they are dong. If you think white people want to control cricket, say so. If you think transformation is ruining the game, say so. Without that, 2016 will be just another year of cowardice and acrimony in SA cricket.        

Noise

After the Kingsmead test against England, Russell Domingo said, “There are a lot of questions about our batting line-up. There’s a lot of questions about AB’s retirement and Dale’s injury. There’s a lot going on. It’s important for our team to stay a really tight unit and try and keep the noise out. There will be a lot said, a lot written. And there will be a lot of comments on Twitter and Facebook, and to try keep the noise out and keep in mind what this team is capable of is going to be the important thing for us. We know this team is capable of some special things.” True. But there is noise and then there is noise. The noise made when a team wins is, of course, music to their ears. Less so what they hear when they lose. Domingo is, of course, right. He will know that, like the death, taxes, the poor and people who think the fact that they played test cricket makes their opinions more important than any others, noise will be with us throughout 2016 and beyond. There is only one way to change its tone: win, dammit.

Retirements

Six members of the SA team who played in the first test against England at Kingsmead have seen the big three-oh come and go. Four of them have recently become fathers. And it should be no surprise that Dale Steyn is crocked again – he is, after all, the old man of the side. As sure as the Indian Premier League is a madness of money and marmalade skies, so players will retire, either when it suits them or when fate takes one of their hamstrings out of the equation. So, when AB de Villiers or Steyn or both of them call time on their careers in the closer rather than the distant future – quite possibly sometime in 2016 – let’s not pretend we didn’t see it coming. De Villiers has nappies to change. Steyn has penguins to rescue. Cricket? It’s only a game.

The Medium Three

When a suit says, “I don’t agree with the three major countries bullying the International Cricket Council (ICC),” you can safely ignore them as a whiner outside the sweetshop looking in. But when the suit in question is Shashank Manohar, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and chair of the ICC, you should take notice. “That’s my personal view, because as I have always said, an institution is bigger than individuals,” Manohar continued. “You cannot guarantee which individual will occupy the top position in these countries. And the ICC constitution, as it stands today, says that in all the major committees of the ICC, these three countries will be automatically there. So all the financial and commercial aspects and the executive committee will be controlled by the representatives of these three countries, which according to me is wrong. You should have the best man, whether he comes from Zimbabwe, or West Indies, or even from an associate or affiliate to work on a committee, who will promote the interests of the ICC.” Translation: the Big Three of India, England and Australia could find themselves unsupersized at the ICC annual meeting in June.

Back to the future of Indian arrogance

Virat Kohli’s shimmering indignation at anyone who dared question the quality of the pitches his Indian team beat SA on last year was a sight and sound to behold. Or was it just all the moisturiser he had slathered over himself? It all sounded rather like the Indian captain knew his team weren’t good enough to win fair and square and wasn’t about to let anyone who thought differently get a word in edgewise. We’ve been shot in this movie before, of course, in decades gone by when teams touring India would find themselves confronted by pitches that were about as prepared as powdered mustard. Expect more of the same in India in 2016, and to hell with what the ICC and their match referees say.

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