‘Development’ tops priority list, again

It was with great sadness that I heard of Monde Zondeki’s release from his Cobras contract this season. Injury, it seems, was the major problem for a man who threatened on several occasions to have a bright international future. Perhaps his move back to the Eastern Cape and determination to impress the Warriors will have the desired effect. A change of scenery often works wonders in sport.

The timing of the Cobras’ decision was ironic, however, given CSA’s recent drive to win political friends with their stated intention to move development back to the top of their priority list. ‘Special attention’ would be paid to identifying and nurturing black African cricketers.

Zondeki was not only genuinely quick when fit and strong, but he has a cricketing background and some ability with the bat, too. Nobody will forget his heroic innings of 59 in a partnership of 150 with Gary Kirsten which rescued South Africa from a hopeless situation against England in the Headingley Test of 2003 – and ultimately helped them to a famous win.

There is, without doubt, a great deal of undiscovered talent ‘out there’ – and if anyone can help find, identify and inspire the next generation of black cricketers, it is surely Makhaya Ntini. His enthusiasm must be put to good use. If he believes he can change the future then there’s no doubt that the youngsters he coaches will believe the same.

There is one concern, however, and that is a reluctance for all concerned to recognise that cricketers who become successful do so, ultimately, because they want it badly enough. Talent is not enough and neither are great coaches. The best facilities are not enough, either. In fact, all three of those ingredients are not enough. The ‘magic’ fourth ingredient is ‘desire’.

Players need to be prepared to make sacrifices, give up some of the niceties and material trappings of success, to recognise that you cannot arrive at training late or cut corners on physical fitness.

I was recently told the story of a South African cricketer, playing in England this winter, who arrived late at training with his boots around his neck, a cigarette in one hand and a Coke in the other.

Much of my last two months has been spent in Zimbabwe, a country now in its third year of ‘zero tolerance’ as far as racial selection is concerned. Three seasons ago every player in the country was told that a ‘bias’ towards black players was over and that, as far as the administrators and selectors were concerned, they didn’t give a damn what colour the team was. Yes, even if it meant an all-white team.

Perhaps the results since then have been coincidental, but the national team has been more successful (and more black!) than at any time in the last decade. Two of the ‘stars’ of recent matches have been opening batsman Tino Mawoyo and fast bowler Brian Vitori. Both were told to lose 10 kilogrammes and meet non-negotiable fitness standards. They could no longer count on anything else in their favour at selection meetings.

They rose to the challenge, brilliantly. And they did so because they realised how much they wanted to.  They were doing it for themselves, not because ZC wanted a more representative team.

CSA’s return to prioritising development is exciting, provided they are doing it for the right reasons. And provided, too, that they are honest enough to realise and admit that, when done wrong, it can make some cricketers ‘soft.’

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