Cricket: One man’s gimmicks, another man’s reputation management

By Antoinette Muller 27 November 2013

Cricket South Africa have pulled a few rabbits out of their hats over the last few months. With a heavily truncated summer thanks to a spat with the BCCI, they’ve had to resort to a few last-minute solutions to fill up the cricket summer. On the surface, those solutions appear like gimmicks, but they’re a little bit more than that. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER

On the surface, a lot of what Cricket South Africa are doing at the moment looks like a bit of a gimmick. A hastily arranged whistle-stop tour involving Pakistan and a festival of cricket at Newlands to make up for no New Year’s Test at the ground have all been paraded as proof that they care about the fans.

It’s not exactly a New Year’s Test match against elite-level opposition, but under the circumstances, it’s better than nothing. On top of the T20 festival, Pakistan’s visit to the country and suggestions that the two might further their ties has been a welcome relief, although the smaller grounds who were due to host one-day internationals against India will still miss out.

However, the could very well benefit from the current series and Pakistan as well as India. A proposal has been tabled to Fincom to see how the smaller grounds can get a cut from the pie. Should that proposal be approved, it will be a significant coup for the smaller stadiums, who would not have had the expense of actually hosting cricket, but will still get some sort of revenue to pocket, pretty much for doing nothing. Their fans will still rightfully feel aggrieved about missing out on live cricket action, but in the current climate of cartels, it’s simply impossible to build a utopia where everyone wins.

The festival of cricket might seem like a gimmick and to an extent, it is. A game against the Springboks, as well as a North vs. South State of Origin clash where fans can vote for the players they want in their team, all add up to some marketing speaking. The festival will also see the start of South Africa’s domestic T20 competition, where all of the international players will be available for selection. That means Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Faf du Plessis, Wayne Parnell, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Vernon Philander and every other star name will most likely be on show all in one day.

Yes, it’s no New Year’s Test, but, it’s a small step towards building a tradition which could not only benefit smaller stadiums, but become something to look forward to every year. Haroon Lorgat, Cricket South Africa’s CEO, insisted that the festival is not about revenue at all. In fact, with the costs of hiring DJs, artists and other entertainers, CSA will most likely lose money from the event. Although it will most likely be broadcast around the world, it’s not exactly going be sold off at a high price.

Furthermore, there are plans to take the festival around the country, should it be a success. Moving such a festival around the country is the ideal way to garner interest in the game form young fans and future stars. Although doing it through T20 is perhaps not ideal for fostering interest in the longer format of the game, it’s a baby step in breaking the shackles of power, even if that comes at a loss for the time being. To find a sustainable and independent source of influence outside of the BCCI’s cartel will take time. For South Africa to build an alliance with other teams and to try and create something unique to their brand makes perfect sense for their future.

Cricket South Africa will hope, then, that that brand encourages the younger generation to get on the bandwagon of South Africa’s legacy. With all the power struggles and the lack of Test cricket being played, it’s not going to happen without them taking the initiative to do so, even if it has to detour via T20.

Cricket South Africa launched a DVD last week, titled The Road to Number One. It’s about how the Proteas made it to the top of the rankings and about the legacy they hope to leave behind. It begins at the Proteas training camp in Swizterland and ends in with South Africa’s tour to Australia last year. As far as sporting propaganda goes, it’s quite good. But there is a dark side to it, too. South Africa will play just five Tests in the next six months and while both of those are against top sides, their schedule for the next 18 months is looking dreadfully dull with just Zimbabwe and West Indies on the calendar. Of course, the small teams have to play the big teams, but even with that in mind, the calendar is an insult to one of the best cricket teams, if not the best, the country has ever produced. Of course, these things are decided far in advance with many factors influencing them, but that there is no room to manoeuvre is a great shame.

In the last week, both the national coach Russell Domingo and Graeme Smith have admitted their frustration at playing so few Tests. Both also made one key point: It’s up to the ICC.

Forging legacies, though, is clearly not on the ICC’s agenda. Despite a wealth of cricketing talent available in South Africa, despite their immense record and achievements, they have the short straw. The Proteas have not played a five Test series since touring England in 2004.

In contrast, England, by the end of their summer next year, will have played three five-Test series in just over 12 months. How on earth is a team who has achieved so much meant to carve a legacy with such an imbalance?

If the custodians of the game refuse to care about the players and the path they hope to pave for the future, and if the custodians of the game can’t be bothered about the players losing part of their livelihoods in terms of match fees thanks to truncated tours, it doesn’t really inspire much confidence.

That’s why, gimmicky as it might be, Cricket South Africa’s efforts to organise last-minute tours and hit-and-giggle festivals should not be brushed aside as showboating. Even if that were the governing body’s sole purpose, at least it’s showboating with a potential positive side-effect. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Jacques Kallis celebrates as he takes the wicket of Pakistan’s Ahmed Shaahzad during the first One Day international cricket match in Cape Town November 24, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings.



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