What is ‘The Public Eye’?

Many years ago a national player injured himself while training shortly before an overseas tour. It was a pity but he, like all cricketers, accepted that it was an occupational hazard which came with the job and knuckled down to work on his injury rehab.

The final weekend before the tour departed was a beauty in Cape Town. Unseasonably warm with the kind of deep blue skies you rarely find when the fires and paraffin lamps are burning through much of the winter night.

There was only one way to spend Sunday morning, and that was having a family breakfast at our favourite outdoor restaurant with pecking chickens and waddling ducks. Quite a few other families had the same idea so the atmosphere was pleasantly busy rather packed as it can be in the summer.

A large Dad with a trimmed, military moustache and two unusually well behaved young boys introduced himself to me and said he enjoyed listening to commentary on the radio as he borrowed our salt and pepper grinders. We had a brief chat and I established that he was a policeman who played a bit of club cricket.

“Just one last thing,” he said as he prepared to rejoin his wife and kids, “he didn’t injure himself training. “He broke the law late at night and then tried to run away from us. When you see him, tell him we let him go this time. But next time we’ll take him straight to the cells…”

It was just one of many incidents over the years in which I have been informed of adverse behaviour by prominent cricketers. Some complaints are more serious than others – running away from the police was amongst the worst – and there have been quite a few by female victims of what Australians call ‘wombat’ behaviour (eats roots and leaves.)

The most recent contact I had from a member of the public came via an e-mail from a supporter of Kent county cricket club in England. He or she made a couple of startling allegations of impropriety against Wayne Parnell in the time he represented the club – with some distinction it must be said – this winter.

As I do in 99% of cases, the claims were treated with a liberal pinch of salt. Besides, once the journalistic principals of ‘truth and public interest’ have been applied I cannot justify writing – or even repeating – anything I have been told. I have never enjoyed gossip. I not only prefer facts, but they must be relevant facts. And besides, young men have not only a desire to let off steam, but a need. It’s their right.

So it was with some alarm that I received the news that Wayne Parnell had been dropped from the Warriors team for staying out late at night during a Supersport Series match. Perhaps he thought nobody would notice, or maybe he was intoxicated by the charms of a fair maiden. Or just intoxicated. Either way, he will have to learn very quickly that, as long as he wants to pursue his chosen career, it will be played out in the ‘Public Eye.’ Which means that somebody, somewhere, will always see what he’s doing.

They are good people at EP Cricket and the Warriors – the best, in fact. But Parnell, at just 20, needs to talk to people who have experience of premature fame, wealth and success and its trappings. His friend and mentor is the level-headed Robin Peterson, so he is already lucky. But you can’t help wondering whether Wayne Parnell has been sent as ‘gift’ to Herschelle Gibbs, a chance to help guide a prodigious talent away from making all the mistakes he did as a 20-year-old. As one brilliant career fades to a close, another experiences its first hiccups.

Just a thought.

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