Mbalula adds bite to bark

Times Media


A month before the 2014 general elections sports minister Fikile Mbalula hit the headlines when he demanded that 60% of all SA’s national teams be generic black or face being banned or having their funding suspended.

Less than three weeks later he recanted: “I am not imposing a 60-40 quota on anybody.”

The elections came and went, and Mbalula’s threat was widely dismissed as a bumptious bit of bluster made against their backdrop.

South Africans will go to the polls again on August 3, this time in municipal elections.

Can it be coincidence, then, that Mbalula was at it again at the release a report from the Eminent Persons Group on Transformation in Sport (EPG) in Pretoria on Monday?

Maybe. But this time he put some bite where his bark was by banning SA’s athletics, cricket, netball and rugby from bidding to host major tournaments until they have met the transformation targets they set themselves in signing memoranda of understanding with the ministry.

The details of those memoranda have not been made public, but in releasing the report a member of the EPG, Willie Basson, referred to a target of 60% of players of colour. SA fell short of that mark by 5%, hence the punishment handed Cricket SA.

Jacques Kallis was among the least vocal of cricketers during his playing days, but Mbalula’s actions got his goat.

“So sad that I find myself embarrassed to call myself a South African so often these days,” Kallis tweeted. “No place for politics in sport.”

Perhaps emboldened by the criticism Kallis received in reply – some of it wondering out loud why he had not voiced any embarrassment about playing in majority white or all-white teams purporting to represent an African country – Mbalula responded: “I have no respect for the view expressed by Jacques Kallis. It’s about redress and equity. Not politics.”

What Mbalula did not say is that cricket could have been worse off. Among the punitive actions he could have taken were to “withdraw government’s recognition of the particular federation as a national federation” and “withdraw the federation’s opportunity to be awarded national colours via (the) SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee to players who participate under the auspices of that particular federation in order to represent the republic internationally and nationally”.

In short, the minister has the power to shut down cricket or any other sport. That has not happened. Yet.

But since the 2015 World Cup the most players of colour SA have fielded in a single match is six, and 60% of an XI is 6.6.

Who knows what will befall SA if they again come up short of the mark. The next general election is scheduled for 2019. Perhaps we’ll find out then.


Only one winner in De Kock v Kohli

Times Media


WHEN Quinton de Kock scored the first century of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) two Sundays ago, the attendant media made all the right noises. But nothing more.

His 108, which helped Delhi Daredevils beat Royal Challengers Bangalore by seven wickets, was lauded as a fine innings in its own context.

It was not talked up as a bolt of brilliance from cricket’s cosmos come to change the game as we know it forever – like it might have been had Kohli scored those runs.

That fuse was duly lit this Sunday when Kohli made an unbeaten 100 for RCB against Gujarat Lions.

Gujarat won the match by six wickets but that hardly mattered as the media glowed with reports on Kohli’s cracker of an innings.

One headline, in The Hindu, went where it has been forbidden to go: “The Kohli graph is much similar to Sachin’s.”

The paper went to creative lengths to put Kohli and Tendulkar on the same page. Readers were reminded that Tendulkar also scored his first – and only – T20 century in a losing cause, that both Tendulkar and Kohli made their tons against teams new to the competition, that those teams, the now defunct Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Gujarat, wore “kitschy orange outfits”, and that Brendon McCullum was a member of both sides.

Part of the fuss is about the fact that Kohli has passed 50 in seven of his last nine T20 innings for RCB and India.

Kohli is also India’s test captain, and a furiously articulate man who is not short on the kind of confidence that, unchecked, easily deteriorates arrogance.

Whatever time of day or night De Kock shambles sheepishly into the room, it’s difficult to believe he has not been tipped out of a comfortable bed moments earlier. Words don’t come to him nearly as easily as furiously articulated strokes.

At 27, Kohli is a giant of the game. At 23, De Kock is Jack doing a fine job of climbing the career beanstalk. 

But there’s more to this than cricket. For a start, there’s 10.3-million – the difference between Kohli’s 10.5-million Twitter followers and De Kock’s 133 000.

De Kock last posted almost a year ago. Kohli’s latest tweet was on Sunday morning, when he wished Tendulkar a happy 43rd birthday. Then he went out and played that innings. Hello, Bollywood? Do we have a script for you …

Which brings us to the women in – or freshly out of – the lives of De Kock and Kohli.

If Sasha Hurly walked into a room crowded with cricket fans, few would know she was De Kock’s fiancé much less an actuarial science student. A smattering might wonder where they had seen her before – she was a dancer at the 2009 IPL.

Not so Anushka Sharma, a Bollywood star and Kohli’s newly ex-girlfriend. How big a star? She has 3-million fewer Twitter followers than Kohli and 7.3-million more than De Kock.

Sharma was named Bollywood’s highest grossing female actor last year. She was also nominated for five other awards, among them “Most Glamorous On Screen Couple (with Ranveer Singh)” and “Most Glamorous Real Life Couple (with Virat Kohli)”.

Her and Kohli’s life together was painful to watch from the distance of the media, where scenes of them grim-faced and gingerly stalking through packs of yapping reporters and snapping photographers appeared all too frequently.

Cruelly, their break-up was celebrated in cricket quarters as just what Kohli needed to return to form. It helped that argument that the split coincided with the start of his current purple patch.

In fact, De Kock should count himself lucky. He is a fine player able to live what seems a healthy, normal private life.

Kohli, for all his talent, is only half that person.

Leading Edge: Blow that bugle, Francois

Sunday Times


CAN’T see Francois Pienaar’s contribution to modern cricket? Nevermind: you can hear it. In fact, you have heard it – many more times than you might think.

That bugle blast? That happy noise that rents the air at apparently random intervals at grounds during matches? That invariably is followed by the crowd yelling, “Ole!”?

It was borrowed from French rugby and smuggled into cricket at the 2009 Indian Premier League, which was moved to SA at three weeks’ notice.

Lalit Modi asked Etienne de Villiers, the multi-millionaire businessman who has lent his Midas touch to everything from the Walt Disney company to the Association of Tennis Professionals to the British Broadcasting Corporation, to make it work. De Villiers enlisted Pienaar’s help, and the bugle blast was his idea.

Those miserable slayers of tall poppies will see a joke in that. Their punchline will be that Pienaar has made a career out of blowing his own trumpet.

The counter punchline is that it’s not bragging if you can do it. And Pienaar has done it bloody well.

Now he is part of the majority non-cricketing contingent on Cricket SA’s (CSA) review panel appointed to find out what has laid the national men’s, women’s and under-19 teams so low.

Predictably, the reaction from cricket’s crustier quarters to three of four members of the panel not having played the game at a high level sounded more like an ominous ode from an oboe than a brassy blast from a bugle.

In his address at the Cape Town Marathon press launch last week, Pienaar, unprompted, tackled the subject as if it was a flashy flyhalf freewheeling around the wrong side of a ruck.

“Whenever a rugby player is involved in another sport, people say, ‘What do you know about cricket? What do you know about running? What do you know about this? What do you know about that?

“I don’t think it’s about what – it’s about why people get involved that’s important.”

Later, as Pienaar stood shooting the breeze with reporters, he was asked a silly question: “How many leopard print shirts do you own?”

He made a blank face and stared at the floor, serious like. Seconds passed as he considered his answer solemnly. Which, eventually, was: “Pass …”

Of course, he had got the point: that putting players in leopard print shirts to sing songs and make television commercials before the World T20 was a waste of time and money that would have been better spent putting more effort into trying to ensure that they played better cricket at that tournament. Instead, they crashed and burned like the “Fireball” they sang and danced about.

Pienaar spoke earnestly of the importance of culture in sport, of how players who trust in the teams they play for and the systems that maintain those teams are much more likely to win. He used that C-word 16 times in the space of a few minutes, inadvertently emphasising concepts that have been ebbing out of SA cricket at all levels for decades.

CSA could do with that thinking in the separate group they have formed to review domestic cricket, and in the probe of the franchise T20 competition that reportedly is in the works. Review, review, review …

Investigations can be used to acknowledge a crisis or to mount a grand cover-up of that crisis. They can also be honest attempts to meet challenges.

All Pienaar needs to serve this cause faithfully is the wisdom to know the difference. Blow that bugle, Francois.

‘Passion’ prompted Pienaar to be part of CSA probe

Times Media


WHEN Francois Pienaar talks, people listen. Even when he says, “It’s not that we are the fount of all knowledge; definitely not.”

The World Cup winning Springbok captain spoke on Wednesday on his newest role – as one of the four members of the Cricket SA review panel that will try to get to the bottom of why those other okes in green and gold, the Proteas, have yet to win a World Cup.

“Passion – I love this country.”

That was Pienaar’s reply when he was asked why someone who, in 1995, held the William Webb Ellis Cup aloft in triumph beside a beaming Nelson Mandela would bother with a bunch who, too often, are the best team in the game but not at the tournament.

“It’s not about the sport, it’s about the processes in place,” Pienaar said. “There are four or five things you need to get right – one of them is a bit of luck – to win.

“People think if you have that it’s a guarantee. It’s not. If you do those four or five things really well, you will have a really good chance of winning. 

“When you get to the final, it’s a 50-50 call and it’s the smart guys who work out the margins. But what are those margins and how do you recognise them and how do you put processes in place to help the guys handle that when they get there?

“The transfer of knowledge is something I am quite interested in discussing. Do we do that and what are the reasons for us not doing it?”

Perhaps to answer questions asked when he was named on the panel, Pienaar said he was not unfamiliar with cricket.

“I played Nuffield Week, and I was involved in the Indian Premier League marketing with (businessman) Etienne de Villiers when it came here in 2009.”

Not the mention the Australians before the 2001 Ashes.

“They asked me to come and do a session on margins and big games and how you close games down. I was sort of embarrassed – the best cricket team in the world by a long shot, asking me.

“But I found it so interesting. My payment was that I got insight into how they run their team. Steve Waugh as a captain and a leader: wow. I got so much from that.”

Pienaar said he was “not here to make any assumptions”. What he was here to do was “bring different thinking; not being in the sport, coming from outside the sport and from a different sport”.

What Pienaar called the “scope” of the CSA review will be decided at a meeting next Thursday. He said the panel would “get our marching orders” next month.

“What we will try and learn is what are the trends over the last 10 years; look at those trends, look at selection and at all of sorts of stats and come up with recommendations.

“Everything is open for discussion and it should be. If you want to do a proper job, you should have the opportunity to ask questions about all elements that enhance high performance.”

Would the results of the panel’s work be made public?

“In my opinion, they have to be. Otherwise I wouldn’t be involved.”

Lights off for Adelaide test – for now

Times Media


THE lights will stay off for the third test between Australia and SA in Adelaide in November – for now.

Cricket Australia (CA) released their fixtures for 2016-17 on Wednesday, and the only day-night test scheduled is against Pakistan in Brisbane in December.

But the Aussie suits remain hopeful that the Saffers will wake up and smell what they consider to be the future.

“We are working with Cricket SA (CSA) with a view to ensuring that the Adelaide test is a day/night test,” CA chief executive James Sutherland said.

“With more than 123 000 people attending and an average of two million watching on television last season (when Australia and New Zealand played the inaugural day/night test), there is enormous expectation that we deliver another pink-ball test match this summer in Adelaide.”

SA’s senior players pulled the plug on the idea based on the feedback they received from the Australians when they toured in March – that the ball was difficult to pick up visually in fading and artificial light, and that a pitch left unusually grassy to help preserve the condition of the ball was key to the Australia-New Zealand game ending inside three days.

“It’s an extremely important match – potentially a decider – and series to the Proteas and the players’ strong desire to play this as a normal test match is testament to how much they actually care about the series,” SA Cricketers’ Association chief executive Tony Irish said.

“There is understanding for what CA is trying to achieve and of the commercial advantages but this is still very experimental and there is also a strong cricket imperative, inside the ropes, and the players’ views should be important here.”

Which would seem to be the kernel of the debate. After all, Sutherland’s view is that “day/night test cricket is all about the fans”.

The players? They’re in there somewhere …

“(SA’s players) are well aware of the views of the New Zealand and Australian players expressed after the first day/night test,” Irish said. “It has been clear from all of this that the Australian players are also reluctant to play the match as a day/nighter and that they want to play a normal test match.”

The discussion took an interesting turn on Wednesday when AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn raised, independently, much the same concerns Irish expressed.

But Steyn, perhaps feeling his bowler’s blood surge, also told CA’s website, “I don’t want to go through my whole career without playing a day-night game. How cool are they?

“Right now I’m leaving it to CSA and for them to make a decision, but to be honest with you I’d love to play one.”

SA in Australia:

1st test: Perth, November 3-7.

2nd test: Hobart, November 12-16.

3rd test: Adelaide, November 24-28

Cape Town Marathon going for gold

Times Media


THERE’S gold in Table Mountain. At least, there is according to the organisers of the Cape Town Marathon – which came under starter’s orders at a press launch in the city on Wednesday.

“This is the year of gold,” WP Athletics board member Allen Barnes said with reference to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.

“And we want our share of gold.”

Not necessarily from the Games but from the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), which has awarded the Cape Town Marathon a silver label since 2014.

This year’s race, which will be run on September 18, starting and finishing in Greenpoint and unfolding to a backdrop of the city, the southern suburbs, Table Bay, Groote Schuur, Newlands cricket ground, the waterfront with Robben Island in the distance, and, of course, the mountain, is also pegged at that level.

But the organisers are after the coveted IAAF gold label, which would put the event in the company of the marathons run annually in London, Paris, Berlin and New York.

To achieve that requires, in part, the entries of five men and five women who have run standard marathons in under 2:10 and 2:28 respectively.

Sounds simple, what with Ethiopians and Kenyans routinely starring in races around the world.

But there’s a catch: those elite runners have to be drawn from five different countries. And, of course, they don’t come cheap.

Organisers will also have to improve access for the disabled and guarantee full road closures along the route.

The latter condition is bound to cause friction in a society that lacks efficient public transport and suffers under the burden of the entitlement taken for granted by drivers of private cars.

“That’s something that we, as a partnership with the city, are grappling with,” race director Janet Welham said.

“We don’t have an underground transport system; we have certain arterial roads that link others.

“From an accessibility perspective, it does pose certain problems. But they aren’t insurmountable.

“If we want to get gold level status and claim the status of the African major, we have to focus on them.”

Non-running Capetonians whose lives are disrupted by all that, but 1992 Olympic silver medallist Elana Meyer does not think the marathon harboured the potential to be divisive.

“Our vision is to become a global city marathon,” Meyer, who serves as an ambassador for the race, said. “Obviously, that incorporates SA and the rest of Africa.

“We want to become an IAAF gold event and Africa’s major marathon. But to achieve that we need locals and runners from our continent, as well as runners from all over the world.”

The other ambassador, Francois Pienaar, who led the Springboks to glory in the 1995 World Cup, said: “Elana came to see me a couple of years ago, and we asked the question, ‘Why do we not have a world marathon in Cape Town?’

“We’ve got one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We have magnificent, smart people. Why don’t we have a marathon that everyone in the world wants to run? And so we started this journey.”

Entries for the marathon, the 12km and 22km trail runs, the 10km road run and the 4.2km fun run, are open and close on September 5.

The target is a total field of more than 20000 runners from 50 countries with a foreign contingent of 10% and 40% from other parts of SA.

Total prizemoney is R2.1-million, R1.79-million of which has been allocated to the marathon itself. The women’s and men’s winners will earn R265000 each.

SA ‘refuse’ to think pink for test – report

Times Media


IT seems South Africans won’t be able to grab a few extra hours of sleep during SA’s tour to Australia in November – reports say the visitors’ senior players are “refusing” to play the fixture under lights.

Two weeks ago The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that SA’s as yet unannounced itinerary would include tests in Perth, Hobart and Adelaide – the last of them a day/night match.

That would mean play starting at 5.30am (SA time) rather than 2am, which was when the first ball was bowled in Adelaide on SA’s last tour to Australia in 2012.

But The Australian reported on Monday that SA’s senior players had punched the day/night test’s lights out after talking to their Aussie counterparts during the latter’s T20 series in SA in March. The paper said the fixtures would be released on Tuesday.

Perhaps Australia’s players highlighted their difficulty in seeing the pink ball during the inaugural day/night test against New Zealand in Adelaide last November, not to mention the extra grass left on the pitch to help delay the ball’s deterioration – a factor in the match finishing inside three days.

Stephen Cook, who is likely to open the batting for SA in Australia and is on the executive of the SA Cricketers’ Association, argued in that direction in an interview with Times Media on Monday.

“The Aussies have had chats with some of the senior guys, who have played a whole lot more test cricket than me,” Cook said. “I know from rudimentary chats with various guys that there have been issues and a lot of concerns about the pink ball.

“A lot of our guys haven’t had enough experience (facing the pink ball) to know how it is going to play. I imagine they don’t want to feel disadvantaged by that.”

Cook said players’ views should trump what the suits want.

“Playing in a big series against Australia you don’t want a game in which one or potentially both teams are not happy with the conditions,” he said.

“In commercial terms, day/night cricket is an attractive prospect. But that needs to be balanced with the best interests of the game and what makes for an even contest between bat and ball.

“I would think they would have to respect the wishes of the guys who are actually playing.”

Even so, he admitted that he didn’t “quite know where the buck stops with this – marketing, administration, or the players? It’s a grey area.”

Rather, a pink area.