What Hashim Amla means to South Africa

Where will we find our truth once he retires? 

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

SOUTH Africa’s cricketers, always among the most advantaged of their compatriots, have been even more privileged for more than 13 years. And not only because they are paid well to play a game and bask in the adulation of millions around the world.

In an age when reality often isn’t what it says it is and it’s dangerously easy to believe that what we see is what will get us, some day, all South Africa’s players have needed to do to see truth is to look across the dressingroom.

Looking back at them they have seen a man who is as aware of his limitations as he is of his talents, who shows no signs of having been sullied by ego, who seems to radiate goodness and decency.

His name is Hashim Amla.

Also in this there is danger. Here in the press, some of us need to stop ourselves from writing Amla up as some kind of higher form of life. We need to remember that he is, and to portray him as, human. Anything else is to drink the poison of those who would seek to divide us, and who these days wear coats that cover different colours of skin.

To understand what Amla and every other player has done, and how they have been given the opportunities to do it, we need to understand the past they have come from.

That was neatly captured last week by Andre Odendaal, who with Krish Reddy and Christopher Merrit, is halfway through writing a four-volume history of the game in this country.

“This second volume attempts to paint an entirely new picture of South African cricket in the first five decades of South Africa’s existence as a country, from the 1910s to the 1950s,” Odendaal said in a release.

“It tells the story of the breaking up of South African cricket into seven different national bodies on ethno-religious lines who all had their own leagues, provincial competitions and national teams.

“And it completely inverts the one-dimensional narratives of previous general histories of cricket during a crucial and complex period of the new country’s development to show that cricket has an infinitely richer past than has been recorded to date.

“Without knowing how apartheid in cricket unfolded one cannot even begin to understand the journey the country has travelled since the 1950s. Today we take cricket unity for granted, but it was struggled for and painstakingly constructed.”

We can, thus, never take Amla for granted. If he had arrived when South Africa was another country most of us would never have seen that backlift, that unshockable face, that lingering impression of George Barnard Shaw creaking about the outfield, and those 8 982 runs in tests and another 7 535 in one-day internationals.

And the next generation would never have been given Amla’s exemplary example. 

“Hashim is an integral member of the team, apart from [for] the sheer weight of runs he has accumulated but the mentorship of the younger players in the team,” said one of them, Temba Bavuma.

“He is always there acting as a calming influence and to provide the necessary wisdom and assurance to us younger guys.

“For me he is a living example of excellence and shows how we should play the game, with humility and graciousness.”

Cyril Ramaphosa no doubt agrees: last week Amla was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga for what he has done far beyond the boundary for South Africa, South Africans and humanity generally.

But Amla is 35. Once he goes what will South Africa’s players see when they look across the dressingroom in search of reality?

Someone needs to keep telling them the truth.

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CSA, SACA back from the brink with interim deal

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

CRICKET South Africa (CSA) and the South African Cricketers’ Association (SACA) came back from the brink of disaster on Thursday, but the game in this country isn’t yet out of the woods.

The organisations agreed on an interim memorandum of understanding (MOU) that heads off, for now, the crisis that has loomed almost unremedied for months with the current MOU set to expire on Monday.

“The short-term arrangement will allow the player contracting process to go ahead for the coming contract year,” a joint CSA and SACA release said on Thursday.

The release said that the June 30 had been set as the “bull’s eye deadline” when “MOU18 [which will be in place for four years] should be finalised with set dates in May and June for negotiations meetings”.

A commitment to “negotiating a recognition agreement to regulate the ongoing relationship between” CSA and SACA has been made.

National and franchise players have been awarded “an interim increase of 6%”, but that may rise in the formal agreement.

Importantly, considering the noises to the contrary CSA have made in recent months, the board have “committed to maintaining a revenue share model with the players, details of which will be finalised as part of the MOU18”.

What that agreement will look like has not been revealed, but it will be unusually carefully scrutinised by the players — whose confidence in the incumbent administrators to run cricket competently has been rocked by the debacle that the postponed Global T20 League has become.

Thursday’s release took us no closer to that truth: “It is intended that the MOU18 will establish the longer term financial arrangements necessary to underpin the national and franchise player contracts on a sustainable basis for the next four to five years. It will also deal with a wide range of player matters, relating to their employment and their careers as professional cricketers. Many of these will be similar to the arrangements under the MOU14.”

But SACA chief executive Tony Irish voiced guarded approval for the progress made so far in the comments attributed to him in the release.

“We are satisfied that this interim agreement addresses the uncertainty that has existed amongst players regarding the MOU and their contracts and it ensures that no national or franchise player in the system going forward is left without a contract come May 1, 2018.” Irish was quoted as saying.

“The interim agreement also contains commitments to key issues outside the player contracts and commits the parties to further structured negotiation over a two-month period which aims to finalise the full ambit of player benefits, and other player relevant matters, to apply over the longer, four to five-year term of the MOU18.”

CSA acting chief executive Thabang Moroe sounded a more conciliatory tone on the issue than he has lately.

“There is still a long way to go in these negotiations but CSA and SACA have both acted in the best interests of the game by setting a clear platform needed to jointly and constructively get this done within a two-month period,” Moroe was quoted as saying.

With that, one of the biggest obstacles to South Africa living up to their potential at next year’s World Cup was at least temporarily removed.

South Africa will play England in the opening match of the tournament at The Oval on May 30 and will end the round-robin stage against Australia at Old Trafford on July 6.

Unusually and controversially for World Cups, cricket has chosen to shrink the number of teams playing in its global white-ball showpiece from 14 to 10 teams.

“It is probably the most open World Cup,” an International Cricket Council release quoted South Africa’s Chris Morris as saying.

“It depends what teams are peaking at the right time, but there is always an upset at a World Cup and you will always remember them.

“One individual can take a game of cricket away on the day, [and] it will be very interesting to play against teams that some guys have not played against and new players that have never been seen coming onto the big stage.”

South Africa’s World Cup fixtures:

May 30: England, The Oval

June 2: Bangladesh, The Oval

June 5: India,  Southampton

June 10: West Indies,  Southampton

June 15: Afghanistan, Cardiff

June 19: New Zealand, Edgbaston

June 23: Pakistan, Lord’s

June 28: Sri Lanka, Chester Le Street

July 6: Australia, Old Trafford

Old but bold Tahir still SA’s first choice for World Cup

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

WHATEVER happens Imran Tahir won’t be the oldest man to play in a World Cup in England next year.

The leg spinner will be 109 days past his 40th birthday when the tournament ends on July 14.

But 16 other players have been there, done that at more advanced ages.

Top of a list that includes Omar Henry is Nolan Clarke, who was 47 years and 257 days old when he played the last of his five World Cup games for the Netherlands in Rawalpindi in March 1996.

The opposition? South Africa, who racked up 328/3 and won by 160 runs.

Half of the 18 players who have ended a World Cup over the age of 40 have been spinners.

That’s good news for Tahir, who could do with some magic rubbing off on him as he prepares to take another shot at the glory that has eluded South Africa in their seven trips to the tournament.

Since the end of the 2015 World Cup, Tahir has played 47 one-day internationals in which he has claimed 69 wickets at an average of 29.17 and an economy rate of 4.94.

In those games, Tahir has failed to claim more than one wicket 24 times and been hit for a run a ball or more 10 times.

Before the 2015 World Cup, Tahir had 70 scalps at 20.51 and 4.35 runs an over in 38 games.

So he’s taken one fewer wicket in nine more ODIs since 2015.

Even allowing for the vagaries of playing conditions and match situations, that’s a decline significant enough to have pushed Tahir from No. 1 in the rankings — which he reached during the 2015 World Cup — to his current sixth position.

But, since Tahir made his ODI debut in February 2011, only Saeed Ajmal has taken more wickets among spinners in the format — one more — and only Shahid Afridi and Rashid Khan have claimed more five-wicket hauls.

Tahir is also South Africa’s leading ODI spinner among current players by some distance, and among their all-time regular slow bowlers he’s on top in terms of wickets and average.

And he’s far from washed up. In March last year Tahir delivered the most miserly performance yet by a South Africa bowler in an ODI when he took 2/14 from all 10 of his overs against New Zealand in Auckland. 

In June 2016 he became the first bowler to claim seven wickets for South Africa in an ODI, grabbing 7/45 against West Indies in St Kitts which took him to 100 wickets in 58 games — the fewest by a South African in the format.

So selection convenor Linda Zondi has a decent argument when he says: “Imran is still our first-choice spinner. In fact, we’re talking about who our second choice should be.”

Does that mean Tahir can pack his bags for England next year?

“Everything is geared towards the World Cup, but I’d be lying to you if I said any player already has a ticket to the tournament.”

Perhaps Tahir can jump the queue, and not only because at his age he is the closest thing South Africa have to a pensioner.

What’s in a nickname? Plenty, when it’s Nick Durandt’s

“Trailerpark” sounds about right as a nickname for Nick Durandt. But he was in no mood for high-minded ideas like objectivity.

GQ Magazine

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

THE end of Nick Durandt’s forefinger is not a fun place to be. Not when it’s being jabbed in your face, punctuating his increasingly voluble disagreement with you.

You wonder, as you become numbed to the intricacies of his fingerprint strobing at you up close and furiously personal, when that damning digit is going to fold into a fist and flatten your nose against your face to make the point good and proper.

Happily, that never happened at a press conference on a chilly morning a few years ago as Durandt berated me, long and hard, over a nickname. His is, always has been, “Mthakathi” – Wizard – which he earned in 29 years in the fight game by producing 38 world champions, 27 holders of international titles and 95 South African champs. He was named South Africa’s trainer or manager of the year five times from 2002 to 2009. In 2009, he won both awards. Few people anywhere in the boxing world know more about turning out boxing champions than Nick Durandt. “Mthakathi” indeed.

But what did I suggest the editor put above his photograph in an article on trainers for SA Sports Illustrated? “Trailerpark”. Cue, post publication, the finger …

You can, I hope, see how I got there: the unapologetically inelegant skull cap, the reckless rashers of wild blond hair, the truck driver’s face and its unruly gash of a mouth that spews the language of a Joburg nightclub bouncer, which Durandt used to be. Then there’s the jewelry as clunky as it’s chunky, the foreboding tattoos, and the hulking package all of that makes.

Objectively, “Trailerpark” sounds about right. But Durandt was in no mood for high-minded ideas like objectivity.

“I drive a Merc!” Jab!

“My kids go to private schools!” Jab!

“All I had when I started was a Standard …” Jab! “Five …” Jab! “Education!” Jab! 

“Now I catch marlin in the Caribbean!” Jab!

“‘Trailerpark’!” Jab!

“Like I’m white trash!” Jab!

“What …” Jab! “The …” Fuck?!” Jab!

WTF indeed. I could only promise to make things right in a subsequent issue. But before I was able to convince the editor the magazine folded.

Which seems an apt metaphor for boxing itself – once the richest repository of colour and character in all of sport, now a fading pastiche of itself that struggles for attention. Bastardised strains of competitive combat like mixed martial arts are filling ever more of what used to be boxing’s space in the public consciousness. The sweet science has gone bitter.

Durandt, a gush of colour and character himself, said as much when he hung up his spit bucket for good in May: “I don’t believe I’m doing my fighters any justice by staying in the game and there’s no work. My job is to get them work. The game has changed over the past five years, sadly, and it’s not where it used to be.”

Boxing has suffered in South Africa because it has disappeared from SABC television screens in a standoff over money with promoters. The blackout has officially ended thanks to government intervention but the fights offered to viewers are, to be kind, of modest attraction.

Globally, boxing is in trouble because for too long too many ring robots like the Klitschko brothers and too few drawcards like Floyd Mayweather Jnr have ducked through the ropes. 

That didn’t wash with veteran promoter Rodney Berman, who told GQ: “When I started in boxing in 1970 people used to talk about the golden years of the ’50s. Then, when I got to 1980, they used to talk about the golden years of the ’60s. Now they’re talking about the golden years of the ’70s …”

Berman also took issue with the view that South African boxing was particularly groggy. Then again, he has an exclusive broadcast contract with SuperSport.

“When I started in boxing I was privileged to have (former South African middleweight champion) Charlie Weir as our first fighter,” he said. “We would open booking and on the first day we would sell 3 000 tickets. Now, if we sell 1 500 for the whole tournament we’re looking good.

“But very few people saw Charlie Weir fight live because the footage was always canned. Sponsorship was relatively negligible because of the limited exposure.

“These days, the arena holds about 2000 people but I can tell you that, off the top of my head, SuperSport have four or five million decoders in the country. They’ve got more throughout Africa.

“The percentage of those decoders tuned to the boxing far exceeds any crowd we could hope to get. Because of this, we’re getting much more revenue.”

But money has never been everything in boxing. At least, not for those who watch it from the safe side of the ropes. We need drama. We need danger. We need Durandt. 

Another ugly Aussie in the frame of a game in trouble

Justin Langer was the David Warner of his time. How can he be considered part of the eradication of the monster he and Warner helped create and grow?

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

AUSTRALIAN cricket’s revolution will be betrayed. At least, it will be if you believe the papers that reported last week that Justin Langer was to set to replace Darren Lehmann — a claim promptly denied by the suits, who said the appointment of Australia’s next coach had yet to be made.

But Langer remains the frontrunner for the job. Whether you trust the press or the pinstripes, the fact that he is even in the frame is a worry.

South Africa’s players remember him as an unpleasant opponent — even by Australia’s standards.

“He was a very tough customer and he had his bit to say on the field,” said Boeta Dippenaar, who played against Langer in five tests.

“His opening partner, Matthew Hayden, was just as tough but he was good company off the field. I can’t say the same about Justin.

“He didn’t strike me as a people’s person, and as a coach you need to be able to relate to people who’s viewpoint you possibly don’t agree with.”

How Langer could be part of any sincere attempt to rebuild a team culture whose ugliness was exposed by the ball-tampering scandal beggars belief.

Langer was the David Warner of his time. How can he be considered part of the eradication of the monster he and Warner helped create and grow?

If any good has come out of Australia’s cheating it’s that cricket everywhere has been given a priceless opportunity to examine every aspect of the game and how it presents itself to the world.

The problem is far from Australian only and far from cricket’s only problem. The game needs to stop and think about important issues. But will it? And who will do so?

Kumar Sangakkara, for one, who wrote in a column on Wisden’s website last week: “Whether it’s using fingernails, biting the ball, Brylcreem, a Murray Mint, a lozenge, a zipper on your pants — and now sandpaper — ball-tampering is an evil that has got a free pass [for more than 30 years].

“The responsibility has to be shared between all the players, captains, administrators, all who have known that this was happening and had seen it, but shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Well, it’s just part of the game’.

“To me, any tampering of the ball, using any of the above-mentioned methods, is the same. And there should have been zero tolerance from all of us.”

You can feel South Africa’s players cringing: zips, fingernails and mints have been proven to be their ball-tampering equipment in the past five years.

Also last week, the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations released their “men’s professional cricket global employment report 2017”.

In it, Darren Sammy is quoted as saying, “The crowds don’t lie and T20 cricket is great for fans … The cricket world is in many ways now like football and playing for your club is now the peak for a lot of players.”

Are Cricket South Africa listening? On May 1, as things stand, most of the country’s professionals will be out of contract. No players equals no game.

It was a big week for cricket. The coming days will be bigger.

Slow suits on thin ice with SA’s players

“The delays have created an environment of uncertainty for players, and also for franchises who wish to secure their players.” – Tony Irish, SACA chief executive

TMG Digital 

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

SOUTH Africa’s cricketers are running out of patience for putting up with what they see as administrators’ inaction on important issues.

And it’s the players who hold the balance of power in a game that cannot exist without them.

The South African Cricketers’ Association’s (SACA) memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cricket South Africa (CSA) expires at the end of the month — six working days from Thursday — and CSA have, according to SACA, been dragging their heels on negotiating a new agreement.

Should April 30 come and go without finality on the document that is the cornerstone of the how the board deals with the players, the latter would be free to pursue their interests in cricket outside of South Africa and could be lost to the game in this country.

CSA issued a release on Wednesday that said they had “outlined plans to conclude a new MOU with SACA as a matter of urgency”. 

Plan A would seem to be to beg SACA to mark more time than they already have in a process that has dragged on, with little noticeable progress and no stated aggression from the player body, for three months.

“In the event of negotiations concerning the new MOU not being completed by April 30 CSA has indicated its willingness to extend the existing contracts for a further period with the intention of having the new agreement in place by July this year,” CSA’s release said.

But a SACA release on Thursday indicated that the players — who represent cricket’s only viable source of revenue — have had enough of the suits’ bungling.

“We are both surprised and disappointed that CSA has seen fit to make a public statement announcing plans relating to the MOU without giving us any proper opportunity to respond to, or to deal with, these first,” the release quoted SACA chief executive Tony Irish as saying.

“The suggested plans have caused consternation among players and they require a response from SACA. The indication of further possible delays and the unworkability of certain aspects of what is being suggested are particular matters of concern to us.

“The suggestion also that there have actually been negotiations conducted by SACA officials with CSA on the MOU to date is also not correct. Negotiations on the key elements have yet to start.

“SACA has been doing everything possible from its side for approximately three months to engage with CSA on the MOU and to deal with the key elements to enable player contracts to be finalised well in advance of April 30.

“In past MOUs the key elements have always been agreed by the end of February at the latest to ensure a proper player contracting process can take place well in advance of expiry dates.

“Unfortunately our attempts to date have been met with very little response from CSA and much of our correspondence has gone unanswered.

“The delays have created an environment of uncertainty for players, and also for franchises who wish to secure their players.

“This comes at a time when South African cricket needs to do whatever it can to retain its players in the face of competing opportunities afforded to players in the emerging T20 leagues market and also in the UK.”

Of CSA’s offer to extend existing contracts, Irish was quoted as saying: “This has caused confusion because it doesn’t cater for what is actually happening on the ground for many players.

“Some players have already been told that they will no longer be contracted, some will be moving between national and franchise contracts, some will be moving between franchises and some will be first time franchise players.

“Extensions of contract are simply unworkable for all of these players.”

Irish pointed out the irony of CSA’s belated recognition of the “urgency” of a sorry situation they are at least partly guilty of creating.

“Although CSA now acknowledges in its media statement that concluding the MOU has become a matter of urgency it goes on to suggest that a new agreement may only be finalised in July.

“We do not understand why such a long further delay may be necessary. We believe that the new MOU is likely to be substantially similar to the existing one in most respects.”

Irish warned CSA against making more unilateral statements on the matter.

“Should an interim arrangement be necessary because finalisation of all the key elements can’t now be done by April 30, then we believe that this needs to be agreed with SACA, before any further media statements are made, to ensure that it is workable and that it aligns with, and feeds into, the MOU once finalised.”

And all the while the clock is ticking inexorably towards May 1, when cricket in South Africa could change irrevocably — a calamity so avoidable it hurts to say so.

Tardy CSA hint at interim deal with SACA

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

HAVING left matters lamentably late, Cricket South Africa (CSA) are hinting that an interim agreement with the South African Cricketers’ Association (SACA) may be needed to save the professional game from collapse in this country.

The current memorandum of understanding (MOU) between CSA and SACA expires at the end of the month — seven working days including Thursday.

No replacement has been agreed, and without a valid MOU most of the country’s national and franchise players would be unemployed.

That would leave them free to strike deals with other organisations, particularly T20 circuses around the world, that could see them lost to cricket in South Africa.

SACA have complained that CSA have delayed negotiations for a new agreement, but in a release on Wednesday the board said it had “outlined plans to conclude a new MOU with SACA as a matter of urgency”.  

The release includes a get-out-of-trouble clause: “In the event of negotiations concerning the new MOU not being completed by April 30 CSA has indicated its willingness to extend the existing contracts for a further period with the intention of having the new agreement in place by July this year.”

Thabang Moroe, CSA’s acting chief executive, who in December claimed that, “Ultimately the people who make money for cricket is CSA, it’s not a union”, in what came across as a surprisingly aggressive stance towards CSA’s only revenue-generating assets — the players — seems to have changed his tune. 

“While we will be seeking to clarify our relationship with SACA, I would like to stress that there will be no fundamental change in the underlying relationships between CSA and SACA,” Moroe was quoted as saying in Wednesday’s release.

“It is rather the intention to restructure these relationships that cover the employer/employee relationship, the collective bargaining relationship and the commercial relationship so that all of these relationships are regulated under separate agreements.

“In the interim while the new MOU is being negotiated CSA gives an irrevocable undertaking that an interim agreement is being proposed to allay any anxiety on the part of our cricketers concerning their futures.”

The new MOU, the release said, would “have the scope to include all national, franchise, senior provincial and women’s cricketers and will be made binding on them in accordance with Section 23 of the Labour Relations Act”.

That agreement would be in force for five years.

SACA chief executive Tony Irish could not immediately be reached for comment.