TELFORD VICE, Bulawayo
SAD. Miserable. Empty. Unhappy. Sick. Disbelieving. Upset. Mystified. Despondent. Heartsore. Wretched. Bloody pissed off.
That’s not a social media post.
Instead it’s how anyone who has sprouted the gooseflesh that comes with watching Dale Steyn thunder towards the bowling crease in the embrace of Table Mountain at Newlands, or the anxiety of being in a beer queue behind the stands at the Wanderers with Hashim Amla a stroke away from another ridiculously sublime century, must feel on this godawful day.
And this is just the first of those days. There will be many more like it while the holes in our hearts heal. If they heal …
Until Monday the names of Thami Tsolekile, Ethy Mbhalati, Jean Symes and Pumi Matshikwe were among the brighter strands in the coat of many colours worn metaphorically by every cricketminded South African.
They were part of the reason we spend so much money on sunblock, pay dearly for a bunch of television channels, most of which we will never view, spend hours reading and comparing and keeping abreast of the latest developments, and get into trouble for watching “just one more over”.
Now those names belong, officially, to people who ventured too close to the match-fixers’ clutches.
They are no longer a plucky wicketkeeper-batsman who should have done great things on the world stage, an indefatigable seamer destined to share a first-class dressingroom with his grandchildren, a nuggety allrounder who added value to every team he played for, and a sturdy medium pacer who had the trust of his captain and the fans alike.
As of Monday we don’t need to spend so many words describing them. Now only one word is needed: crooks.
Just like Gulam Bodi. Just like Hansie Cronje.
What have we done to deserve them?
Everything and nothing.
We do everything we can to ignore the reality that cricket in this country is impoverished and so does not pay its professionals enough – or as much as is needed to stop them thinking about augmenting their earnings with illicit cash.
The best of those professionals will play in competitions like the Indian Premier League and earn outrageous amounts. Happy days.
But most will be stuck in the trenches, keeping the game alive and ticking but not making big or even biggish money.
We do everything we can to look past the inequities of history, to pretend we live in a world where everyone has a fair shot at fulfilling their potential.
Some of us even think the brutal unfairness of the past is being reversed. Nonsense.
Tsolekile, for instance, was a nationally contracted player when Mark Boucher’s career was ended by a flying bail in Taunton in July 2012.
That should have made Tsolekile Boucher’s replacement in the looming test series, and he was duly flown to England. But only to train, play in two meaningless two-day games, and carry drinks.
How fair is that?
Then, Tsolekile says, he was told he would play in a test series against New Zealand in January 2013. He didn’t.
Again, how fair is that?
This is not a justification for Tsolekile’s conduct.
But it is part of the explanation and a warning to the game to treat its players – all its players – with more respect.
We do nothing to stop the spread of the prejudice that has dragged this sorry saga into ugly territory.
Why else has nobody bothered to wonder out loud why almost all the names that have swirled in the cesspool this story has become were those of players of colour?
So there is cause if not for celebration then for relief: Symes is white. Hurrah. Not.
We do nothing to stop ourselves from thinking that cricketers can do no wrong.
We kid each other that we know them, even if we have never met them, and that they are fine fellows to a man and woman.
Society demands this of us. Stars of sport are meant to be our north stars of happiness and success.
Here in the press we feed the monster that thinking has created.
Too often we extoll players’ exploits on the field with undue reverence and take care not to spoil their day by asking a less than friendly question or writing a story that might curdle that morning’s cornflakes in their precious tummies.
This was as true when Cronje was exposed as a crook as it is today.
In fact many still think Cronje did no wrong.
Perhaps they have forgotten that, before he confessed, he lied himself silly.
Perhaps they never thought he was as human as the rest of us.
As it turned out, he was too human for his own good.
And, just like those other crooks, Tsolekile, Mbhalati, Symes and Matshikwe, too human for the good of cricket.