LEADING EDGE: Empathy for the suits

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Centurion

YOU won’t often find empathy for the suits in this space. But these are strange days indeed, and some of the strangest passed like a bizarre parade at Kingsmead last week.

It was called the first test, but only 99.4 of the 450 overs scheduled were bowled because of the damage a night of lashing rain did to the freshly relaid outfield.

Too wet for play, the umpires – Ian Gould, Richard Illingworth and Shaun George – said the next day. Too soft for play, they said for two more days.

Game over. The match was drawn and Kingsmead was hung and quartered as a venue unfit to host test cricket in that vast vacuum of sense and sensibility we call social media, where comment is sacred but facts are free (often of truth).

Did the umpires get it wrong by not allowing that comically over-protected species of sportsperson, the professional cricketer, to do their thing?

Who can say. Few people besides the umpires were allowed to assess the field themselves. At least two reporters who tried to do so were shooed off by security.

Did the match referee, Andy Pycroft, waste an opportunity to take the edge off the controversy when he refused a request from the press to explain the umpires’ thinking, or even to say why he would not discuss the issue?

Hell yes. The days of suits thinking they can kill a story by saying nothing are long gone.

So Faeez Jaffer, Brett Proctor and Wilson Ngobese – respectively the president of the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union (KZNCU), and Kingsmead’s stadium manager and groundsman – were left to twist in the ill wind that stank up the web in the wake of all that.

Cue empathy for the suits.

Jaffer took things on the chin at the main gate, collar and tie and all, with a cheerful, “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”

Proctor either was on his phone or his walkie-talkie, sometimes both, his hair turning a whiter shade of grey with each passing field inspection.

As a senior member of the Ancient Order of Okes in Short Pants (never trust a groundsman who wears long pants) Ngobese is no suit. But he was targetted for the same abuse.

It was unfair and unwarranted, and it could have been avoided had Cricket SA (CSA) heeded Ngobese’s warning to not replace 40 tons of what used to be Kingsmead’s outfield just seven weeks before the test.

Likewise, had 65 millimetres of rain not gushed down in a few hours at a time of year that should not have yielded anything like as much, we would have had a match worthy of its status.

And if the KZNCU had the R400 000 they reckon would buy enough covers to keep the entire ground safe, it would hardly matter how much rain fell. How about CSA pay for a bumper set of covers, which travel with the SA team?

Also, could we stop treating cricketers as if they are descended from Humpty Dumpty? It’s not as if rugby players or footballers twist an ankle every time they sprint on a wet field.

So, here’s to you, Messrs. Jaffer, Proctor and Ngobese. Cricket is a better game for your efforts. But it could be so much better.

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