Many people ask me what is wrong with our cricketers and, being a ‘glass half full’ rather than a ‘half empty’ man, I usually reply that there really isn’t very much wrong at all with our cricketers. In fact, we have some of the best cricketers in the world and we should be very proud of them.
But, if pushed for a generalisation which can be applied to the majority of South Africa’s international and domestic cricketers, then it would be a notable lack of maturity.
Cricketers react with understandable tetchiness when accused of being ‘immature’ but that’s because they often don’t understand what the word or the concept means and, besides, it’s often not even their fault. (And no, it has nothing to do with the amount of facial hair you can grow in 48 hours.)
While it is fair to say that the majority of professional cricketers playing Franchise cricket in South Africa are not especially well, it is equally fair to say that even more of them have no idea what a ‘deadline’ is, how cash-flow works in a business, the difference between life assurance and a retirement annuity or how to introduce themselves to anyone outside the cricket world.
It’s no good just seeing how other people live, the ‘real’ people in the real world, you have to experience it in order to make sense of the world of cricket which is far different to that of any other professional sport purely because of the ungodly amount of time it forces its participants to remain inside its unnatural confines. And it’s not just going away on tour for two months at a time, it’s the eight hours a day at home – for four days in a row – which turns normal, healthy young men into narcissistic, socially impaired members of society.
Graeme Smith is aware of the problem and is, hopefully, also aware that he is a part of the problem. By insisting that he can be best friends and drinking pals some of the men to whom he is a leader he is causing cliques within his squad and alienating potentially important allies.
But the mere fact that he is now so, so much more aware of captaincy and leadership skills and responsibilities means he is now able to complete the job. He spoke of the possibility of players attending “leadership courses” to improve their real world skills. That may be a very good idea but I think players have attended enough “courses” by the time they are playing the game professionally. Anyway, ‘courses’ aren’t the real world.
It would be better for young players to spend five months working, and I mean working to earn their keep. Or even studying through Unisa, as Boeta Dippenaar does while on tour.
Otherwise, they can reach the age of 30 and, if they’re lucky, have as much money in the bank as they don’t have people skills in their personality. We would all be very lucky if our national teams were packed full of people with a knowledge of what was inherently right and wrong and a desire to conduct their lives by that code.
And then I heard a story concerning the behaviour of a South African player in India recently representing ‘Africa’ against ‘Asia’. He was asked for a regular cricket interview by a respected journalist from a recognised publication, as he has been for many years around the world, but this time he demanded to be paid for doing it.
Maybe he was simply gatvol of the India journalists, who can be demanding, or maybe he just thought nobody would hear about his behaviour back home because there weren’t any SA journalists covering the series. But either way, he certainly didn’t need the money because he was guaranteed R125,000 just for turning up for six days work. And when I compared that amount of money to the salary of the Indian journalist in question, I felt even more uncomfortable.
We have a long way to go.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.