Johannesburg – Are people losing interest in the Proteas? It certainly feels that way.
Sure, there was anger after last weekend’s embarrassing defeat to the Netherlands which saw South Africa knocked out of the T20 World Cup.
But whereas previous World Cup exits had also been greeted with vitriol – “chokers this and chokers that” – reactions to last Sunday’s result – which still included chokers – could for the most part fall into the category of resignation.
People expected it and it would suggest many have moved on from the Proteas.
Last weekend was a very busy one for South African sport. Besides the Proteas, the Springboks were in action in a high-profile Test match against the No 1 team in the world, Ireland, and locally, Orlando Pirates, one of the “big three”’ in South African football, were contesting a domestic cup final.
By Monday, Pirates fans still dominated on social media and on radio call-ins and Springbok fans were still moaning about the referee.
The Proteas? It was as if someone had hit a mute button.
This can’t be good. Even if it is only anger, it still means people at least remain interested. Lose, as the Proteas have done regularly at world events, and the public loses interest. Who wants to watch the same old story unfold every time?
That should be deeply concerning for Cricket South Africa. As an organisation, the perception remains that it is a corrupt and inept body. CSA has undergone changes in the last few years which were necessitated by the political developments in the country.
There’s a new board of directors – featuring some old faces – but dominated by a larger independent element.
There’s a new executive committee overseen by CEO Pholetsi Moseki, whose background in finance means a very strict hold is kept on the purse strings.
However, the reputational damage done by years of maladministration is extremely difficult to shake off and so the perception remains that CSA doesn’t know what it’s doing.
What it and the sport badly need is for the Proteas to win one of these ICC tournaments.
South African cricket, unlike its rugby and football counterparts, doesn’t have a wide-reaching and passionate following for its domestic sides.
While many have a similar resigned outlook about Bafana Bafana as they do the Proteas, South African football retains its hold over the country via the clubs and in particular the “big three”: Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs. Rugby has the Lions vs the Bulls and the Sharks vs the Stormers.
But other than the region they’re from, who knows where the Knights are based or the Warriors? Anyone want to go and check out the Dragons?
Very soon the domestic cricket landscape is going to be dominated by the SA20 League and then supporters will have to get to know a whole new set of teams: Super Kings, Capitals, Super Giants and Royals.
The one cricket team every South African does know and engages with the most is the national side, and if it keeps “choking” at big events, who will want to keep watching? If the now departed head coach Mark Boucher is to be believed, CSA also needs to be wary of its young players no longer having an interest in playing for the Proteas, with the proliferation of T20 leagues – including SA’s own – providing lucrative new avenues.
Enoch Nkwe, CSA’s director of cricket, is overseeing a review of the Proteas’ T20 World Cup campaign.
There’ve been reviews following previous World Cup exits too and everything from selection (2015 and 2007) to choking (2011) to just plain woeful form (2019) is probably written down on documents, gathering dust at CSA’s HQ in Melrose.
Nkwe may want to page through those as he conducts one-on-ones with the current crop of players, the remaining members of the coaching staff and the selectors.
Can he find a solution? Cricket SA needs him to, because despite all the money that is supposed to flow into the sport through the SA20, it still needs the Proteas to garner the public’s attention.
Fortunately (or not), there are ICC events scheduled for every year until 2031. In one sense that provides plenty of opportunities for the Proteas to get over the hump, on the other hand it also creates scope for the failures to weigh even heavier upon those picked to represent the country at those events.
Whatever is learnt from the review, the priority for South African cricket in the next few years is to win a tournament.
Every ounce of energy from every board member to the exco, high-performance managers, selectors, coaches and players has to be directed towards that.
Too often South African cricket looks like it’s trying to appease entities it has no control over.
Forget the sports minister, the Eminent Persons Group report, some bird brain on social media, and focus entirely on winning.
The public’s patience has worn thin. That was reflected in how the latest failure was greeted and therein lies a clear and present danger for South African cricket.
* The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.
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