Reasons not to celebrate

This should be a time to celebrate everything good about South African cricket, from the genius of AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn to the artistry of Hashim Amla.

We should celebrate also the hostility of Morne Morkel and the depth of the domestic game, which allowed us to catch our first glimpses of Stiaan van Zyl and Temba Bavuma (has anyone ever made a greater impression as a substitute fielder?).

But the feelings of joy are tempered, if not entirely eliminated, by the abysmal showing by the tourists. It’s not just on the field, it’s everywhere. Cricket in the Caribbean is dying before our eyes and there seems little anybody can do about it.

When the BCCI co-opted the boards of England and Australia into their cosy domination of all meaningful control in the game, they failed to look around at the state of the game in the other seven test-playing nations.

They evidently didn’t care. It stands to reason that competitive sport attracts more interest and is more commercially viable than one-sided sport, but the executives on BCCI, ECB and CA never gave that a thought. They looked only at the revenue they could generate by playing each other.

The plight of the West Indies can best be summed up by the recall of opening batsman Devon Smith at the age of 33 and with a test average of 24 after 34 tests. It was his 11th recall to the side. Yet when Darren Bravo withdrew from the squad, the selectors looked at the domestic game – and Smith was the next best.

A massive effort was made earlier this year to address the quality of the domestic game. Instead of playing inter-island first-class fixtures for a match fee of around $1 500, the WICB and the Players Association (WIPA) introduced 90 domestic contracts, which paid between $2 000 and $3 000 per month all year round.

It has never been financially viable for anyone but the youngest single men to play first-class cricket. The only reason they did so was to play for the West Indies, which paid far better, albeit sporadically and in a haphazard way.

Once that dream was extinguished, most players drifted away to find a ‘real’ job. The introduction of lucrative domestic contracts was a game changer, in every imaginable way.

The money was to come from the major (virtually the only) sponsor of cricket in the Caribbean, Digicel, which funds the game at every level from under-15 to the successful Women’s team. It did not necessarily mean an increase in the sponsorship deal, but a redistribution of the millions of dollars they put into the game.

Money that had been put the way of the test team was reassigned but the players on national contracts felt an entitlement to that money and, to be fair, the ‘deal’ was done behind their backs. So they walked out of the tour to India leaving the WICB with a $42 million lawsuit from the BCCI. The WICB survives on a hand-to-mouth basis and only has $28 million in annual revenue.

The situation for the current test team is dire. The ODI team will be a great deal stronger with the addition of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard, but the general decline is inevitable unless the ‘Big Three’ (effectively the ICC) take urgent action to reverse it.

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