I don’t want to play any more.

Is it possibly that I am not the only member of the cricket fraternity unable to suppress my giggles at the righteous indignation spewing forth from our colleagues in the rugby world over the Luke Watson affair?

The fact that a board president saw fit to include an extra player in a squad big enough to include half of South Africa’s registered professional cricketers so incensed some rugby people that one would have thought Regan Hoskins had committed manslaughter, or worse.

Depending on on your viewpoint, the fact that the cricket family has become completely blase about political interference in the selection of all of it’s teams means either that we are approximately a decade ahead of rugby in embracing and, indeed, pioneering the sporting future of our country, or that we have been kicked around for so long by our politicians that, like a stray dog, we have become immune to the beatings.

Sure, there were a few terse words and strained emotions when Ray Mali supplanted Mark Boucher with Thami Tsolekile in the Test team three years ago, but we soon got over it and besides, Boucher returned a much stronger and enriched cricketer. Tsolekile, meanwhile, having perhaps been promoted ahead of his time, has disappeared from the Cobras set-up, let alone the international scene.

Sporting presidents hold the right of veto for a reason and it seems to me that in the case of Luke Watson and Jake White, the reason was justified. It was obvious that the schoolmaster in White didn’t like the ‘bighead’ in Watson when he refused to select him for the national under-21 side when he was already a regular member of the Sharks Super-12 team. But personality clashes should never affect the selection of a team.

It is hard to imagine the uproar that would have been caused if White and the selectors had been told to include Watson on the bench for Saturday’s Test match, or – heaven forbid – a place in the starting XV. If he been given such orders, he could have done worse than call Mickey Arthur for a word of advice on how to handle it.

The Queen of England is the head of that country’s armed forces but she isn’t going to declare war or make any other military decisions without being told what to do by her admirals and generals. The same applies to Thabo Mbeki, for that matter. So why on earth do rugby people assume that Regan Hoskins, an intelligent lawyer not given to pursuing the limelight, acted unilaterally in creating ‘Watsongate’? He did not.

The major difference between rugby and cricket, however, is the calibre and moral fortitude of those unfortunates to be slung with the label ‘political pawn.’ Whereas cricket’s victims are often left to fend for themselves and end up sinking, Watson is undeniably having the time of his life.

While the Luke Watson ‘thing’ has amused the cricket family, of more concern must be the extreme reluctance of many of our national cricketers to take part in the forthcoming Afro-Asia Cup in Bangalore. Graeme Smith has had a knee operation so he’s not going for legitimate reasons. Jacques Kallis, apparently, will be rested – which is exactly the intention of many of those who have been named in the African squad.

The players’ contracts with CSA oblige them to be available for every series and fixture covered by the ICC’s Future Tours Programme – which does not include the Afro-Asia Cup. So, technically, they do not have to be available for selection.

The tournament is a mere eight days long, however, including the travel days to India and back. And for those eight days, the chosen players will be guaranteed over R100,000 each. More if they win.

For Kallis, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Makhaya Ntini and a couple of others, the money is irrelevant when weighed up against the time spent away from home and the chance to live a ‘normal’ life. Having spent almost as much time as them ‘on road’ over the last eight months, I must admit that the prospect of leaving again in three weeks time would not appeal. But with R120,000 at stake, my wife and children would be packing my suitcase and waving me out of the door, especially for a mere eight days.

So why are the senior players so reluctant? I can’t be sure of this, but I suspect it is because they are being treated like ‘political pawns’ on an international scale, and they know it.

The organisers of this spurious event, which is ‘justified’ by the money it raises for the development of the game in both regions and by a donation to charity, need the ‘big names’ in order to give the series credibility and therefore convince the television producers to pay top dollar.

What CSA should be doing with an event like this, of course, is sending Alviro Peterson, Thandi Tshabalala, Dale Steyn, Albie Morkel and – just to be mischievous – Vaughn van Jaarsveld, to give them full exposure to subcontinental conditions in full colours. Instead, unless they can find a convenient injury soon, Pollock and Ntini will be forced to leave the kids behind once again, just when everyone was getting used to the routine of Dad being at home.

Me? I’ll be going out for dinner with my wife, playing a little winter golf and watching James Stewart perform live at the Suikerbossie.
Unless anybody is prepared to offer me R120,000 to cover the tournament, in which case I’ll drop everything. Actually, I’ll do it for a quarter of that.

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