The ‘Kepler effect’

There’s a very strong chance that most people who start reading this column will believe it is about the soon-to-be-filled position of Proteas team manager. And maybe it is.

Do we have ‘inside’ information? Will the former national captain be given the opportunity and responsibility of instilling and maintaining discipline in Graeme Smith’s team and, finally, seeing them reach their collective potential?

Whoever does get the job will certainly have a great deal of hope and expectation riding on his shoulders. CSA chief executive Gerald Majola and Proteas coach Mickey Arthur have spoken in recent days about the new man as though he was a guaranteed cure-all.

Kepler has been the most popular point of speculation but I believe there are several other names in the hat with a fair chance of being given the job. They may, or may not, include former coach Eric Simons, Cobras manager Russell Adams, Peter Kirsten, Vince van der Bijl and…Pat Symcox.

If the thought of Kepler travelling with the team and chairing the disciplinary committee sends a shiver down the spines of the national squad, the idea of Symmo taking charge ought to wake them up every bit as much. Personally I think he would be an excellent choice. He’s ‘been there’ and walked the walk – and he can certainly talk the talk. And he has management experience in the real world outside sport.

Anyway, I’m afraid this column isn’t about that and we don’t have any inside information – not that can be relied upon, anyway.
It’s about a different ‘Kepler effect’, one that he spoke to me about six months ago and that is steadily coming true – the scenario
that, one day, the South African national team could be selected from 30 players, or less. Ridiculous? Impossible? I don’t think so.

I was speaking to Kepler about the effects of the European Union’s trade agreement with the African Union which allows African sportsmen to ‘trade’ as equals amongst their European counterparts. The precedent was set by Maros Kolpak in the sport of handball and in cricket by our very own Claude Henderson who signed for Leicestershire back at the beginning
of 2004.

“My greatest fear is that we could end up picking our national team from a pool of about 30 players. We only have six teams and if each one has two Kolpak players and a couple who are too old, too young or not good enough, that leaves you with about five in each team – 30,” said Kepler.

Toss in a couple of injuries and players like India-bound Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje and Andrew Hall who will surely be employed by Franchises next season but will be banned by Cricket SA out of spite, and the pool of players shrinks even further.
Get the picture?

But no, South African cricket will never fall that far. We are world leaders, aren’t we? Well, world number twoers, at least. Except that we’re actually number six in Test cricket, but that’s just temporary.

I have used the example before, but it’s worth repeating. 30 years ago South Africa was a world leader in tennis with an Open rated amongst the greatest tournaments on the international calendar. Today, tennis has a lower profile and standing in the country than swimming, road running, cycling and paddling. And all because the tennis administrators took their collective eye off the ball.

Today, cricket’s administrators need to make absolutely certain that the ‘Kepler effect’ does not allow to gain a toehold in South African cricket. Though I fear it may already have done so.

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