New hardness in SA cricket

There is a new attitude of ‘hardness’ sweeping through the corridors of South African cricket – and not just the corridors.

Whether the game’s administrators are taking their cue from Graeme Smith’s square-jawed confrontational-ism or whether the captain’s attitude is leading everyone else has yet to be determined.

From Centurion to Cape Town and everywhere in between there is a thick-skinned and unforgiving approach to everyone from players, to coaches to bean-counters.

This may be a good thing for there has been too much fat and gravy sloshing about for too long.

But hardness also produces casualties which are described, variously, as ‘tragic losses’ or ‘inevitable collateral damage’ depending on whether you’re a journalist or someone working for CNN and describing the war in Iraq.

A great deal of fat was cut from the system two months ago when the number of nationally contracted players was cut from 22 to 13.

Were the cut players ‘victims’ or simply an acceptable byproduct of a market-driven attempt to become more efficient? UCB Treasurer Haroon Lorgat and his chief executive, Gerald Majola, might well have a different answer to Roger Telemachus and Lance Klusener.

Following the example set by the national body, Eastern Cape Warriors coach Mickey Arthur did not retain the services of Dumisa Makalima and Mornantau Hayward at the end of this season. Makalima made national headlines at the beginning of the season when he scored a triple century for EP ‘B’ but his first-class record was a disaster and Arthur was ruthless.

Bravely or foolishly he assured his bosses that he would still produce black players to act as role models for future generations and that the door to Makalima was not closed for good. But he was not responding well to the security blanket of a contract.

Hayward’s approach to life was as much of a problem as his under-achieving performances on the field and, like all the best coaches, Arthur decided that the game must always be bigger than any individual.

So as things stand at the moment, Hayward – who is playing for Middlesex in England – doesn’t have a contract in South Africa. I don’t suppose the very generous salary paid by Middlesex has left Hayward feeling too much like a victim although he did see fit to have a moan about the national selectors not talking to him.

It would seem he is now lost to SA cricket. Alert followers of the international game will no doubt have noticed that Bob Woolmer has adopted a similar approach to Shoaib Akhtar. Toe the line or go away and do your own thing.

On the subject of South African players in England, my attention was recently drawn to the extraordinary performance of Charl Pietersen who recently claimed figures of 7-10 for Northamptonshire in the first round of the (50 overs) C&G Trophy.

Kimberley-born but ‘poached’ last year by Northants coach Kepler Wessels to ‘become English’, 22-year-old Pieterson would appear to be a very genuine prospect. (Although, admittedly, the ‘victims’ of his left arm swing bowling were the amateurs of Denmark!)

Pietersen, of course, is not alone in England. HD Ackerman or Dale Benkenstein could easily assemble and captain a very, very good team of senior SA players good enough to tackle most teams in the world. Martin van Jaarsveld, Charl Willoughby, Claude Henderson, Johan Louw, Nic Pothas, Greg Smith, Neil Carter, Jonathan Trott and Dewald Pretorius make a decent XI.

And please bare in mind these players are NOT overseas professionals. They are playing as Englishmen and have, to all intents and purposes, given up their right to play for their country.

In this new era of hardness, perhaps we should regard them as ‘inevitable collateral damage’.

More worrying are all the less familiar names of South African born players in England. With the greatest of respect, and apologies to all concerned, who is Jade Dernbach? Or Kevin Latouf, or Jono McLean? What about Matthew Dennington? How good are they, and good might they be in the future? What are we losing?

How many more people, like Kepler Wessels, are prowling our provincial countryside and squirreling talented youngsters off our shores? And it’s not just the players feeling vulnerable and unappreciated.

Shukri Conrad, successful and popular at Gauteng, applied for the job of national coach. He didn’t make the short list of six and, even better, didn’t receive a single piece of personalised communication from anyone on the appointing panel. Just a standard letter of rejection “…thanks for applying…and good luck in the future.” What a boost. What a pat on the back. What a vote of confidence.

Dave Nosworthy, meanwhile, is still being kept waiting to see whether he has a chance of being reappointed coach of the Titans. The Titans, meanwhile, are fishing around all over the place trying to lure a ‘big name’. Only if they fail to attract someone suitably glamorous, it would appear, will Nosworthy keep his old job. What a boost. What a pat on the back. What a vote of confidence.

Maybe this really is the way we need to go. Perhaps we need to be more ruthless and market-driven, with a significant part of the ‘market’ being determined by our game’s transformation targets.

But if we do, then we all need to be very aware of the consequences now, not when it’s too late.

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