LEADING EDGE: Does cricket create crooks?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

HANSIE Cronje answered the match-fixer’s knock at his door only after becoming disenchanted with the direction that cricket in South Africa was taking because of transformation efforts.

Those efforts unearthed Thami Tsolekile, only for the same system that nurtured him to stunt his career through shoddy treatment. Tsolekile, too, has dined with the devils of match-fixing.

Cronje was white Free State royalty. Tsolekile is as township as black South Africans come.

All that connects them is their conscious decision to violate every sport’s bedrock tenet of faith: play the game to the best of your ability.

The fact that Gulam Bodi, Jean Symes, Ethy Mbhalati and Pumi Matshikwe are part of the same mess only adds to the theory. They were not stars. Cronje was a star. Tsolekile should have been a star.

How, then, have figures as contrasting as Cronje and Tsolekile come to the same sticky end?

Another question could help answer that one – does the way the suits run cricket in South Africa make the game unwittingly complicit in corruption?

Administrators all over the world of sport are either tolerated or despised. 

The cannier among them learn that the most important lever to their power and continued presence in their positions is the support of the players, and so they court them ardently.

But even the most clever suits daren’t fool themselves. They understand that they will only have the players’ backing as long as they do their bidding.

Gerald Majola knew this only too well, and he used that knowledge to become to cricket what a certain kind of godfather is to certain kinds of families.

But, not for the first time in South African cricket, administrators seem to have forgotten this law of survival.

They have forced an unwanted XI down the throats of a team trying to win the World Cup semi-final, refused to grant players permission to earn extra cash in the Masters Champions League, summoned others from the Caribbean Premier League to put on collars and ties and attend dinners, and embarrassed themselves by proclaiming as a bright new idea the well-established fact that race quotas are part of the selection discussion at international level.

And that’s only since March last year. Who knows what stunts they might pull before the end of the coming season? And what the cumulative effect of those blunders might be on a game that, already, is showing signs of coming apart at the seams?

“They’re not a team anymore; they’re just a bunch of individuals – each one is out for himself,” one longtime inmate of the South African dressingroom said this week.

Should those individuals become pissed off enough they will chuck it all in and take their talents elsewhere. To the Indian Premier League and its lesser facsimiles, for instance.

Or they will get nasty and screw the suits and the system they represent by insuring it rots from the inside: “Hello? Is that the match-fixer?”

Behind the scenes at the commemoration of 25 years of so-called unity in South African cricket in Johannesburg last month, some of the administrators themselves were upset that too much recognition went the way of Ali Bacher and not enough to Percy Sonn.

Bacher was a pivot for that unity but also a pillar of the divided past. Sonn was the most brashly honest of the suits of the new era.

In a better world they would both be celebrated as pathfinders for the future, while Cronje and Tsolekile would be condemned as greedy, ungrateful bastards.

But we don’t live in such a world. This is all we have. Scary, isn’t it?

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