October 2007 – Strong Majola averts SA/Zim Crisis (COLUMN)

I’ve been an unapologetic supporter of Zimbabwe Cricket and its players since covering their inaugural Test match just over a quarter of a century ago. There were some great times in the early days but it has been an almost endless struggle for over a decade now. The United Cricket Board of SA and then Cricket South Africa have both made sporadic attempts play the role of big brother and help up north, but mostly not enough has been done. A decade ago, however, one of those sporadic attempts to assist the international minnows almost went spectacularly wrong!Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola averted a crisis in South African cricket on Thursday, a crisis with the potential to have brought the domestic game to a crushing halt.

Zimbabwe’s proposed semi-participation in the 2007-08 Supersport Series would have diminished the country’s premier first-class competition to such an extent that the country’s players were prepared to place their jobs on the line in order to preserve its integrity.

The Supersport Series fixtures were finalised in May and the Franchises started making their plans. Yet Zimbabwe could be squeezed into the competition for a single round of matches almost a month into the new season as a joker in the pack.

Bizarrely, the proposal to award Franchise teams points for these matches against Zimbabwe was seen as a way of giving them ‘meaning’ and purpose. Instead, it would have had the opposite effect. While some Franchises would have played a full-strength Zimbabwe, others would have faced whatever rag-tag XI remained in the country while the Zimbabwean national team fulfilled its international commitments during the summer.

Last year the Titans played magnificent cricket and ran away with the title but usually there are two, three or even four horses in the race at the business end of the season. How much respect would for the game would remain if the champions were crowned on the back of a full house of points in a game which finished in two days in Harare?

Worse – what happens if a Franchise sweeps all before them but fails to win the title because it rained for three days while they were in Bulawayo.

And if those scenarios are bad, think about this one. Franchise team travels to Harare badly in need of points. Rain wipes out the first day. Senior Zimbabwe player happens to mention to Franchise captain how hard life is in his country at the moment…and how much food R1000 could buy. And how badly out of form he and a few other of his players are. Or could be, if necessary… afterall, they don’t have any points to play for.

If any of those potential situations made you cringe, imagine how angry the senior players and administrators from the six Franchises were when they were told, with a week’s notice and without any consultation, that Zimbabwe were being shoe-horned into the competition. They were furious.

Each Franchise has a Players’ Representative who reports to the South African Cricketers Association (SACA) and speaks on behalf of the professional players in his region. At the beginning of this week they all decided to fly to Cape Town for an emergency meeting at which they discussed their concerns and, hours later, informed their chief executive, Tony Irish, that they would refuse to play any Zimbabwean fixture in the current circumstances.

Some officials within South African cricket were aghast at the temerity of the players and vowed to fight them ‘to the death’ if necessary which, in real life, would have meant sacking the players for breach of contract and employing more and more until they had enough to send a team to Zimbabwe.

The clash of pig-headed egos, ignorance, arrogance and self-serving agendas would have resembled the sporting administrative equivalent of the World Trade Centre.

But that’s where Majola stepped in. On Thursday he, too, flew to Cape Town for an emergency meeting with Irish at which he acknowledged that CSA’s best intentions, to help Zimbabwean cricket, had not been adequately discussed and planned with the players. Instead of imposing its collective will on the players, Majola said he would prefer to work with SACA to find a solution which would satisfy all three parties – CSA, Zimbabwe Cricket and the SA Players. Irish indicated clearly that South Africa’s players were happy to assist their Zimbabwean counterparts but in a way which did not adversely affect their own competition.
That process has now started.

In the meantime, it’s probably a very good thing for all concerned that only two or three men really know just how close SA Cricket came to having its own 9/11.

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