Leading Edge: Fixing grips throat of unhappy game

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Centurion

A famous throat was gripped by an even more famous hand amid the happy madness that followed SA’s completion of a 5-0 test series whitewash over the West Indies in January 1999.

The throat was Ali Bacher’s. The hand belonged to Hansie Cronje.

At issue was SA’s evolving transformation policy, which stipulated that “the national team shall be a team of colour”.

Even so, an all-white XI had played in the first test. But Herschelle Gibbs was picked for the second match, replacing Adam Bacher – Ali’s nephew. By the fifth test, Paul Adams was also in the team.

All of which happened after former sports minister Steve Tshwete, an important figure in SA’s return from isolation in 1991, voiced concerns over the persisting paleness of the team to Bacher senior.

Bacher told Cronje to expect to lead an increasingly darker side in future. Cronje, Bacher said this week, “didn’t take kindly to that”.

Others say Cronje took violent exception, growling that the suits should clamber aboard the bandwagon and, however undeservingly, help celebrate a thumping series victory rather than try to colour the team by numbers.

Fifteen months later, Cronje was damned as a fixer by the Delhi police.

Dare we believe that those dots – Cronje’s unhappiness and his submission to corruption – are not connected?

Inside every unhappy cricketer lurks a vacuum waiting to be filled by something as cynical and illicitly rewarding as fixing.

That unhappiness could be caused by the fast approaching end of a career that never amounted to much – and the consequent looming financial uncertainty.

It could also be prompted by the lack of quality playing opportunities because of racial or other prejudice, real or imagined.

Or the belief that integrity is being sacrificed at the altar of politics.

Or even because some suit thought he could tell you what’s what.

Why Gulam Bodi has, allegedly, involved himself in fixing is an as yet unanswered question, although the first  of those reasons would seem the most likely.

But the focus of the current fixing fandango in SA cricket must now shift to the other unhappy campers – and to what took away their happiness.

Which brings us to Cricket SA (CSA), who began burning their bridges to the rest of the game in March when they made a mess of trying to play selector before the World Cup semi-final. Then they denied their interference until that became as transparently untrue as they were untransparent.

Another cover-up over Aaron Phangiso having, as he put it, had “one too many” during a journey home from India in October has since been exposed.

Worse, CSA have maintained an unhelpful, unfeeling, ill-advised refusal to engage the public over the fixing scandal to any intelligent degree. Why not, for instance, name and suspend others for the sake of that seemingly forgotten ideal: the good of the game?

That’s a lot of unhappiness, and who knows which dark alleys might beckon to whom.

But, in the Phangiso and fixing sagas, CSA’s professional arm have also kept their board in the dark, and the board is as peeved at the secrecy as the rest of us.

This time, other hands are on other throats. C’mon suits: even you can do it. Make your day.

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