No Price on Experience

In a typically brilliant article on the importance of learning your trade from senior players and others who have walked the path before you, former England captain Michael Atherton traced the lineage of his country’s opening batsman through the last half a century and made the point that there was always an established number one for a young number two to learn from.

Graeme Gooch learned from Geoff Boycott, Atherton learned from Gooch and Marcus Trescothick from Atherton. A young Andrew Strauss was mentored by Trescothick and he did the same for Alastair Cook who starts his 161st and final Test match at the Oval on Friday. Also in amongst the mix was Alec Stewart.

“I can’t remember much of what Gooch used to say to me about opening the batting in Test cricket, but I know that I learnt the game at the highest level by watching him. I had the best seat in the house during matches, 22 yards away, and I watched on practice days how assiduously he prepared and trained. In the absence of batting coaches I learnt subliminally by watching,” Atherton wrote in The Times. Graeme Smith has said much the same about Gary Kirsten.

It’s just one of thousands examples. I have yet to meet a successful international cricketer who didn’t pay tribute to the men they learned from. There are so many variables in the game, from physical conditions (weather, ball, outfield etc) to the match situation and the mental state of the opposition, and your own team mates for that matter. It is impossible to have seen it all, even after a 20 year career, and at Test level their effect is magnified.

His concern is that, for the first time in 50 years England will be without an established opener when Cook departs. Keaton Jennings will have played only 12 Tests when he is joined by his new partner.

It seemed prescient with Cricket South Africa now making it awkward for some of the most experienced players to be contracted by their Franchises for the coming season. They are the ‘Kolpak’ men currently plying their trade for English counties.

CSA reason that cricketers who are not eligible to play for South Africa are ‘blocking’ the path for those who are – not to mention taking their salaries. So new legislation was passed which prohibits Franchises from paying Kolpak players from their central salary allocation. Should they wish to contract a Kolpak player in future, they will have to find or raise the funds to pay them independently which, given the current economic climate in which every Franchise struggles, will be desperately difficult.

Would the benefits of their experience and expertise at the highest level of the domestic game not be worth having? By raising standards and passing on their knowledge would the rest of the players not be required to raise their own level of performance in order to compete for a place?

Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw did not even seek a local contract in their home country last season as a result of the hostility they felt here after foregoing their international careers for four-year deals at Hampshire but there are plenty of men who would love to contribute to the domestic game who will find themselves cast out of it.

The legislation was drawn up by CSA’s Cricket Committee which is chaired by CEO Thabang Moroe. The members are Beresford Williams, Thando Ganda, Rihan Richards, Norman Arendse, John Wright, Greg Fredericks, Max Jordaan, Andrew Breetzke (SACA), Corrie van Zyl and Robin Peterson. Only one has played cricket at any level this century.

nother piece of interesting legislation designed to protect the future of South African cricket concerns junior Proteas at under-19 level and below. The proposal is that they will be asked to sign contracts pledging their futures to playing for, and in, South Africa. Should their careers change path, they will be required to repay the money invested in them. No details of how that sum will be calculated are available.

Perhaps the answer to both issues lies in making the domestic game as attractive as possible to players at every stage of their career rather than attempting to legislate against players choosing an alternative, more stable and more lucrative career.

Kolpak Players in UK:
Heino Kuhn, David Wiese, Hardus Viiljoen, Dane Vilas, Richard Levi, Colin Ackermann, Colin Ingram, Simon Harmer, Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw.

In other news, CSA’s spend on running the game at every level in the country has rocketed from a record R910million two years ago to an eye-watering R1.2billion in the last financial year while projected income is at an all-time low for the next three years. Just one example is the next India tour to these shores, in 2021, which features three Test matches and three T20Is.

Last summer’s tour contained seven ODIs which were worth approximately R60million each in television rights – R420million. The only tour guaranteed to be profitable in the next three years is that by England next summer. The rest will lose money, or break even at best. Even Bangladesh and the West Indies have more incoming tours and matches than South Africa over the next four years although the shortfall is partly of our own making.

A gaping hole in the Future Tours Programme during November and December yawns in the Proteas schedule, a result of keeping it clear for the Global League and the necessity of having our best and biggest name players available. It was a prime time for international fixtures but which is now too late to change.  Once England leave in January 2020 there are just two Test matches scheduled for the rest of the year – away in the West Indies. Future Test series against England and Australia have been cut from four to three matches.

CSA’s cash reserves of R500million will be gone in two years if things don’t change. Currently it costs R706million to run the professional game, R340million on the amateur game, R57 million for the Proteas and no less than R113million for ‘central’ costs including CSA’s  new headquarters and administrators salaries.

Organising extra international fixtures may be a way of generating extra income but broadcasters have made no secret of the fact that bilateral series, especially those not involving the ‘big three’ of India, England and Australia, are decreasing in value – rapidly. And there is almost no appetite at all for series amongst the ‘small seven’, especially outside the ICC’s Test and ODI leagues.

It should be clear to South African supporters why the Global League – or whatever replacement – is so important. Without it there will need to be not a restructuring but a complete rebuild of the game. Cuts will, inevitably, have to be made at grass roots level because it is at the top of the tree where the money is made. And that defeats the entire purpose of spreading and growing the game.

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