TELFORD VICE in London
HOW could it have come to this? That South Africa’s most captivating player of the age and their most senior administrators have, with spectacular clumsiness, stumbled into a minefield of avoidable wrongs is an indictment of how they think they can treat the public.
If AB de Villiers wanted to retire from test cricket in December, as those close to him claim, he should have been left to do so — not begged to keep playing the format by Cricket South Africa (CSA), as insiders say.
And if he was implored not to hang up his whites, he should have refused to comply — not made the deal with the devil that amounts to him deciding which games he won’t play in an effort to make it to the 2019 World Cup.
De Villiers’ defenders say he has done no such thing, that CSA have let him down by not owning up to their side of the bargain.
But the terms of the apparent agreement remain the same whoever says what. It seems De Villiers has been given permission to pick and choose his matches by administrators who reckon his continued involvement is key to South Africa’s success and therefore to the bottom line of CSA’s bank balance.
All of us know better than to trust the suits, but we can only be amazed at how often they forget that we know this. Or don’t they care that we know?
Now we have a player, and not just any player, doing something similar. How could De Villiers not know that he has his bosses over a barrel, that he is able to make demands other players cannot because granting them would be unfair — and, worryingly, know that his demands will be met?
That CSA fancy themselves as wheeler-dealers is not news. Not long ago they tried to hide R4.7-million in undeclared bonuses from their own governance committees and their own president, and tried to squirm out of an independent investigation into the saga. They failed in that, but then shamelessly ignored significant parts of the probe’s recommendations for cleaning up the mess.
In the coming months, CSA must be asked how they justify staging a money-spinning T20 tournament open to players from across the world that is exempt from their own transformation policies when franchise players aren’t paid enough and the game in our country isn’t black enough.
But CSA are not the only villains of this piece.
De Villiers’ defenders say he has “sacrificed” much to play for South Africa. Like what? The last time we looked he was paid far better than most of his compatriots to travel to exotic places to play a mere game and be idolised for that by men and women alike.
Yes, he is away from his family for long periods of time. So are many other people in many other professions who do not earn nearly as well as he does and often have to pay their own way.
De Villiers is a special cricketer because he is able to play the game better than every other person on earth, bar, perhaps, a few. But that does not make him any more special than any other person on earth and he shouldn’t be treated as such.
That he is paid exponentially more by the Indian Premier League (IPL) than by CSA would be closer to the truth, and let’s not confuse patriotism with professional sport.
How about De Villiers and CSA start there. He can tell us why he needs or even wants that kind of money — and who wouldn’t want it? — and they can tell us why they can’t afford to match his IPL salary or even buy a ticket to the ballpark.
De Villiers versus CSA is a conflict between a man who, for years, has told those listening to him what he thinks they want to hear and an organisation that has repeatedly shown itself to be unable to do the right thing.
That does not necessarily make neither De Villiers nor CSA dishonest. In the best case scenario it makes them, respectively, hopelessly naive and pathologically challenged.
And in the worst case?
There’s a test series starting on Thursday. Let’s think about that instead.