Blinded by the badge

Cricket South Africa’s annual Awards dinner started back in 2004 (how time flies) but was preceded for decades before that by the launch of the Mutual & Federal cricket annual.

In years gone by it was a cherished opportunity for the game’s ‘stakeholders’ (except they weren’t called that back then) to catch up at the end of the winter and look forward to the start of a new season. Despite growing in size every year, they remained convivial and warm. Just about everybody knew each other and if they didn’t, an introduction was just around the corner.

Throughout the 1990’s the term ‘cricket family’ was used by several speakers during the course of the evening and that, quite genuinely and sincerely, was how it felt. So when did the ‘personal touch’ start to become diluted?

Perhaps it was when CSA’s marketers decided to have ‘more’ of that personal touch. And, like the IPL and most other cricket organisations and tournaments around the world, they made the mistake of believing that ‘more’ meant ‘bigger’. This year, despite a great deal of money and effort, not to mention the best intentions of some wonderful people, it felt as cold and impersonal as the weather.

I mean this in the most constructive way possible. As a privileged guest for 21 years, I am not the most qualified to comment – others have been attending for longer than that – but the nostalgia I felt for earlier years cannot be put down to my age. I’m not nearly old enough for that.

Part of the problem was that over 90 people failed to arrive, despite reconfirming in the week before the function. Some had even been flown in from the coast and provided with a splendid hotel room, at CSA’s cost, before deciding they’d rather spend their complimentary junket doing something else. Frankly, whatever their motivation, it was disgraceful. They should all be placed on an immediate, non-negotiable three-year blacklist unless they experienced severely adverse circumstances.

But it is indicative of a general attitude and malaise towards the game’s administrators amongst many followers, some sponsors, some media and, sadly, even some players.

It’s time for a “group hug.” The poison that exists/existed between chief executive Gerald Majola and president Mtutuzeli Nyoka has permeated further down the family tree than either of them could ever have imagined (or certainly have imagined) and it’s up to them to clear the air genuinely if the games pillars are to once again sit in firm foundations.

The highlight of the evening for me, apart from the impeccably judged awards, was a chat with Paul Harris. Four years and 40 Test matches since his debut, he was turfed out of the system a couple of months ago when his national contract wasn’t renewed. But there he was, proudly wearing his Proteas blazer. Imran Tahir is all the rage – and was at the function. Was Harris bitter?

“Of course not. Immy deserves his chance, he’s earned it. He’s a damn good cricketer and I hope he does brilliantly. If South Africa are winning, I’m a happy boy,” said Harris.

A few minutes later he revealed that he had turned down a three-year county contract in the immediate aftermath of his axing. It would have been more lucrative than his national contract. Why?

“I don’t know…I still want to play for my country. It was my dream as a kid and it’s still my dream. Maybe I’m being stupid, maybe I’m blinded by the badge. But as long as there’s still a chance, I have to be available. That’s just the way it is.”

Wow. Maybe CSA could arrange for him to bottle a few litres of that sentiment for future generations.

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