Winter Cleaning

It used to be a regular occurrence in a cricketer’s life but these days, even for decent first-class cricketers, the chance to have two or three months off is becoming more and more of a rarity.

With England’s school system increasingly disinterested in playing a game which requires a significant commitment of time and passion from both teachers and students, there are fewer and fewer ‘graduates’ reaching decent club level, never mind the 18 first-class counties. That means more and more opportunity for young and ambitious cricketers from South Africa, Australia and the West Indies. Everywhere else in the cricket playing world, in fact. There are even cricketers from Singapore and Nepal playing in various leagues in England at the moment.

For South Africa’s elite, however, the current fitness and conditioning camp in Pretoria was preceded by a ‘luxurious’ period of three or four weeks in which they could kick back, relax and — when they weren’t on the golf course — take stock of their lives and address many of the everyday, humdrum issues which people who work in offices can hardly escape.

International superstar cricketers may have agents and they may earn millions but, barring only a handful of exceptions, they still have to pay the rates themselves and take some responsibility for ensuring that their household insurance premium covers their latest freebie blackberry, laptop and iPod. Although it’s probably easier and simpler just to ask their sponsor for another one than actually make a claim in the event that they damaged or go missing.

In between three-hour stints at my laptop working on Mickey Arthur’s forthcoming account of his five years in charge of the Proteas, I, too, have invested some time in having a good look at various policies and funds to which I contribute amounts of money on a monthly or annual basis. It’s been years since I had a look at most of them, let a reasonably close look.

Amongst a number of interesting discoveries I made was that Old Mutual had earned over R18,000 in fees over the last four years for investing my life savings which, unfortunately, have diminished by almost R20,000 in that time. But I am perfectly well aware that nobody could see the global economic crash of a couple of years ago so I don’t blame the good people in the financial services industry and I hope that my fees are helping to keep their children in good schools and ensuring that they have, at least, one overseas holiday per year. But it does make you wonder how good the ‘investment’ actually is.

The same applies to cricketers. A lengthy period of time gives managers, coaches and selectors the opportunity to assess whether players are really offering a fair return on the amount of time, energy and money invested in them. Just like investment accounts, we keep making the deposits when we’re busy but, when the season stops or there’s an injury, that’s when we ask questions. I suspect Yuvraj Singh, for example, will find the investments in his career starting to dry up very soon. He is, by all accounts, a very ‘high maintenance’ cricketer and his returns are diminishing all the time. Someone younger, more modest and with better knees might present a more viable future.

The same process of evaluation is going on at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria right now. Which investments are worth persisting with, which are working hard to provide the best return and which, if any, are just taking the monthly contributions from gullible investors and going out for supper. Hopefully none, but if there are any they should be weeded out this week.


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