The Davis Cup is a tennis institution dating back to 1900 when an American, Dwight Davis, organised the inaugural event and then helped the USA to win it. It remains an institution today although it rarely attracts the game’s best players. Throughout much of the 20th century, however, it was the Olympics of the game.
The World Cup of golf was similarly described for almost 50 years since its inception back in 1953 and it remains a popular highlight on the golfing calendar. But, like the Davis Cup, it rarely attracts the top players despite boasting a winners roll of honour that includes the greatest players ever: Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.
Cricket is now heading in the same direction. In the years to come Test nations will be represented by up-and-coming youngsters and honest, hard-working professionals who fall just short of the very best. The best, meanwhile, will be playing where the money is, in the Indian Cricket League (ICL) and the Indian Premier League (IPL), for example.
Crazy? Couldn’t happen in a team game? I don’t think so. Just ask Benni McCarthy who pays him more, Bafana Bafana or Blackburn Rovers. It’s obvious where his loyalties lie just as the loyalties of Manchester United’s players lie with their clubs ahead of their various countries.
South Africa’s cricketers will have less than a week to recover after the final one-dayer against the West Indies before they leave for a month in Bangladesh. There is also less than a week between then end of that tour and the start of three back-to-back Tests in India. Many will then stay on in India for another six weeks to compete in the inaugural IPL season.
When they return to South Africa, they are due to tackle Scotland and Kenya (seriously) in a triangular one-day tournament before heading to England for another nine weeks.
Straight after that series is the ICC Champions Trophy – scheduled for Pakistan in the second half of September but guess what! South Africa is on standby in case the political volatility and violence currently plaguing that country hasn’t settled so Graeme Smith and his men might actually catch an extra couple of bonus nights in their own beds!
Bangladesh will then stay on in South Africa to play two Tests and three one-dayers before Smith takes his men to Australia.
That’s 12 months solid. It reminds me of South Africa’s schedule way back in 1997 when half a dozen senior players spent 43 nights out of 365 in their own beds.
The big difference between now and 1997, however, is that there is an alternative. The six weeks in India playing IPL cricket will earn the South African players more than the other 40. About twice as much, in fact, depending on reputation. And in case you think it’s a one-off, the IPL has just signed a ten-year broadcast deal worth US$1.1 billion.
Last year the USA wasn’t represented at the World Cup of Golf by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but by Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum (for goodness sake!). Woods and Mickelson have moved on long ago, as have Ernie and Retief Goosen. Moved on to golf’s equivalent of the IPL.
Sometime in the next ten years, we might hear the following at pre-season nets: “He’s a talented young kid – give him a couple of years on the international circuit to make a name for himself and he might just be good enough to crack an IPL Franchise contract.” Just as young Brazilians hope to attract the attention of Manchester United.
One way to tackle the problem might well be for national administrators to start actively ‘managing’ their best players and keeping them fresh for the really important tours. With due respect to Bangladesh, an SA ‘A’ team should be sent. And if anyone with a single Protea Test cap plays against Kenya and Scotland then the CSA offices at the Wanderers will require all the interior walls to be padded to prevent the inmates from damaging themselves.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.