The Wonders of Communication

Corrie van Zyl has been a general manager at Cricket South Africa since 2009. Before that, he was a long-serving coach of Free State, the Diamond Eagles and then the Knights. Before that, he enjoyed a 12-year career as a player spanning 104 first-class matches culminating in two ODIs on the ground-breaking tour of the Caribbean in 1992. He also enjoyed a stint as national coach including the 2011 World Cup.

His time at CSA included a spell as the High Performance Director in charge of overseeing the emergence of the best and most promising young talent. He pushed the transformation of domestic cricket and never once took a backward step when many of his former colleagues and contemporaries questioned the inflexibility of the domestic playing structures.

He was the ultimate CSA ‘team man’ to the extent that many former players said he had ‘sold’ his cricketing background to the corporate world. If he ever did have doubts about the cricket merits of some policies, he never showed them. Just a couple of weeks ago he attempted to block a player’s exit from the Mzansi Super League because of the potential reputational damage it might do to the fledgling product.

35-year-old Robbie Frylinck, seasoned and proven all rounder, wasn’t even picked in the initial draft. He ‘earned’ a wild card pick at the last minute for the basement price of R50,000. Shortly before the tournament began, he received a call from the Abu Dhabi T10 League offering him the dollar equivalent of approximately R300,000. Unsurprisingly, he asked to be released from his obligation to the Durban Heat. But being a contracted player, he was required to have a No Objection Certificate from CSA. Van Zyl said ‘no’, surely against all of his cricketing and personal instincts. It was quite a bun-fight to change his mind.

A week ago van Zyl was suspended by CSA pending an investigation into why an image rights payment was not made to last year’s MSL players. He was not authorised to make the payment but, still, you know, he’s been in the system for so long that, surely, he should have made it happen. Or something. The only person who signed the payment agreement was CSA chief executive, Thabang Moroe. Who suspended him. Maybe it was for failing to remind him to sign the cheque. Just to make sure he’d covered all the bases, Moroe also suspended sponsorship manager Clive Eksteen and COO Nassei Appiah.

Van Zyl and Eksteen were the only members of the CSA administration with playing backgrounds, international or first-class.

A couple of days ago van Zyl was interviewed by a five-person CSA panel for the most important position in the game in this country – Director of Cricket. On the panel was Moroe. The man who had just suspended him.

There are, no doubt, many legal and corporate reasons for not disclosing the nature of CSA’s business and the reasons for their behaviour. But there is never, ever a rational reason not to reassure stakeholders about goodwill. The suspensions of three, key administrators within the organisation was yet another burning fire following the ongoing High Court cases between CSA, the SA Cricketers Association and the Western Province Cricket Association.

Communication has not been abject, it has been absent – which is far worse. In sport, as in most walks of life, the words “no comment” are widely interpreted as “guilty”. No words, at all, are not ‘interpreted’, they are viewed as evidence of guilt.

Corrie van Zyl has ruffled many feathers amongst the game’s ‘old school’. He has dedicated the last 10 years of his life to making CSA’s vision for the future a reality. In the last 10 days he has been thrown under a bus and then dragged out and held up as proof that ‘procedure’ is still in place and functioning.

CSA and the MSL are in desperate need of sponsorship and the backing of the real corporate world. ‘Desperate’ is not used lightly. The first step towards making that happen is honest, open communication. Why is a man under suspicion of “dereliction of duty” being interviewed for the top position in the game? It is not necessarily wrong, but not explaining why is exceptionally wrong. And damaging.

The costly disputes with SACA and WPCA may have sound background, and the facts obviously cannot be aired publicly, but reassurance costs nothing. “We would like to assure everyone that our intention and desire is to work closely with the players and the WPCA and to bring our legal disputes to a close as timeously as possible.” It may be hollow, but it’s better than nothing.

But nothing it is.

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