LEADING EDGE: Does cricket have a future in South Africa?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

SHOW us a classy cricketer and we’ll show you a fine flyhalf: Peter Kirsten, for instance, and Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers, among many others.

They all know what it feels like to cross a touchline on a day as cold as their blood is hot, their sinuses seared by wintergreen, and No. 10 on their backs.

Injury steered Kirsten towards cricket, or at least prevented him from playing both codes even though distinct seasons made that possible.

Gibbs, too, was stretchered out of rugby before we knew how good he could be. 

There was, then, something other than choice in their decisions to opt for cricket.

But De Villiers choosing, over everything else he was outrageously good at, to invest his future in flannelled foolishness should make the game proud. Thank you, AB.

This connection across the codes isn’t restricted to batsmen. Years ago a flashy flyhalf arrived at St Stithians. His name was Kagiso Rabada.

But Rabada could be among a dwindling number of young talents who pick a life in whites rather than wearing a gumguard.

Can the South African cricket industry continue to compete for its precious raw material?

Not just with rugby but also with other codes, and with different sectors of the economy?

In fact rugby has spiralled to its own low ebb. Its name, as a career option, is almost as mud as cricket’s.

That leaves football as the big game of choice for South Africans looking to pay the bills through sport.

Which is not to say football in this country gives us a template for how a sport should be run.

We’ve all heard enough of its chronicles of corruption to know it has problems.

But football has a future in South Africa. There is plenty of money in the game as well as a steady flow of new players – South Africans and others – and intense and deep public interest.

Does rugby have a future? Does cricket?

In rugby’s case, yes. Probably. Enough money remains in enough teams in the game here to make it a viable option, and the lure of playing overseas – even to inviting locales like England, France and Japan – is offset by a still rich culture in South African rugby.

Cricket has just six franchises and among them only the Titans can claim a level of affluence comparable to a top rugby outfit. Relatively, anyway.

Another cricket franchise, the Cobras, spent last week in turmoil over their coach, Paul Adams – a coach, mind, who has won or shared five trophies across all formats in four years.

The drama is set to continue this week and seems sure to end with Adams being fired despite the still damp ink on his new two-year contract or with several of his players walking out in protest at his presence.

“Will he ever get another job,” one of the finest of cricketing flyhalves asked, sincerely, as it all unfolded.

The Dolphins announced on Thursday morning that they had parted ways with their major sponsors after a long and healthy partnership. On Thursday afternoon they unveiled a new backer: a gambling house.

Really? In these matchfixing times? Isn’t that like a drug dealer buying a pharmacy?

Perhaps we should cut the Dolphins some slack. It’s not as if sponsors are falling over themselves to get into cricket.

Three weeks ago the company that put its name to the franchise T20 competition walked away because, they said, “the costs just did not warrant the investment”.

In other words, Cricket South Africa wanted too much buck for their bang.

It’s a bad sign when a company thinks their product is worth more than their customers are willing to pay.

Cricket needs to learn this lesson while it still has customers.

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