Leading Edge: Blow that bugle, Francois

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

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.

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