Merry Christmas, Mr Nobody

While so many people are spending more money than they actually have during the holiday season and falling victim to the ‘festive’ spirit by adding gluttony to their self-imposed economic flagellation, it seems appropriate to talk about money in the game of cricket.

In recent months two high profile national cricket meetings opened with either a delegate or, indeed, a chairman tabling a motion for more money. Honorary positions on such committees have, historically, been compensated with an ‘expense allowance’ designed to make sure the committee member isn’t personally out of pocket while attending a two-day, out-of-town meeting.

Prices have certainly gone up in recent years, no doubt about that, but the CSA ‘per diem’ payment certainly hasn’t kept pace – according to some of its members. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps they should be compensated more for their time. But equally, money should never, ever be their motivation or the reason they are there or involved in sports administration.

The point about honorary positions is that, theoretically, those without vested interests and whose living is made elsewhere are able to provide objective balance to the emotional views of players and salaried chief executives. Unfortunately, as the game has changed and more money has appeared, there are more and more once honourable men now turned ‘hangers-on’ whose objectives are quite clearly gravy before cricket.

I was reminded of this phenomenon last week during my visit to East London for the Makhaya Ntini Benefit match against the West Indies. Reminded for all the right reasons, that is.

Buffalo Park, like the De Beers Oval in Kimberley, always battled to compete with the Test grounds but, in years gone by, the United Cricket Board did at least schedule a one-day international in those cities to maintain interest and enthusiasm. Attending those matches was one of the highlights of the year, as it was – naturally – for the cricket loving residents.

Now those days are gone and it is a source of almost unbearable sadness for some people. Enjoying a beer after the Ntini game I was approached by a man who struggled for words, at first. Then they started, slowly at first because he was a little embarrassed by the occasional beery slur. It had been a long day! But by the time he had finished, there were tears in his eyes. Without Franchise cricket, he said, let alone international cricket, interest in the game was dieing in the area and the best players were forced to migrate to PE or even further afield to pursue their dreams.

Willowmore Park and Sedgars Park seem able to survive because of their proximity to Jo’burg and Pretoria but Kimberley and East London, some say, are in danger of falling off the back end of the cricket bakkie. And that would be more than a shame. It could, in fact, have a colossal impact on the future of the game given that both regions have a rich tradition of grass roots cricket – and not many youngsters have the temperament or means to relocate. Which means they stagnate in club cricket or give up completely.

Jandre Coetzee is a player to keep an eye on. Almost 24, the Springbok-born Griquas all rounder has played 29 first-class games and has a batting average of 27 and has taken 113 wickets at a cost of 22 each. Bowling average below batting average is the sure sign of a genuine all rounder. Where will he move? Will he move? Why should he leave home?

It’s one thing to leave middle-aged supporters behind on the road to ‘financial maximisation’, but South African cricket really cannot afford to leave any talented cricketers littering the road behind it.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it, and happy holidays to those who don’t. And if you believe in having a ‘traditional’ hot meal (turkey!?), just one request to those who guide and administer our great game: Leave off the gravy.

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