I’m no longer directly involved in South African cricket but still sit on the Board of Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (Fica), the global players’ body that represents the majority of the international players around the world on global issues.
This group of players includes South African players, both men and women. I was the chief executive officer of Saca for 17 years, I did a stint with the Professional Cricketers’ Association last year and was head of Fica for six years. I was vice president of the World Players Association which represents over 80,000 players and athletes across multiple sports across the world including the big four American sports.
I give you this detail because I think this qualifies me to speak on how the current issues at Cricket South Africa (CSA) are going to negatively affect South Africa in the context of world cricket.
I am viewing the developments in SA through a Fica lens. Cricket at the highest level is an international game. Although the T20 leagues have introduced another global landscape for the game, most countries still rely heavily on international cricket to generate the vast majority of their revenues.
Most players still aspire to play international cricket for their countries in one or more formats, be that in International Cricket Council (ICC) Events such as the 50 overs or 20 overs World Cups or in bilateral series which include Test cricket.
Why are these facts important? Because South Africa needs to be expertly and professionally represented at the ICC level in order, firstly, to exert its influence in ensuring that the right decisions for international cricket and the global game are taken, and secondly so that South Africa is sufficiently respected around the boardroom table so that it is not simply shoved aside like so many of the small countries are when decisions are taken or deals are made.
As most people who follow cricket know, decision-making at the ICC is dominated by the big three (India, England and Australia). What the small countries lack in financial means needs to be made up for through leadership and credibility around the table and the strength of the national team on the field.
When wheeling and dealing for bilateral series (which sadly is still the way the system works), the small counties have to have leaders who can pull off the deals for the lucrative series.
How does this relate to what’s going on between the Members Council (MC) and the Interim Board (IB) of CSA? Well, it’s a struggle for power and leadership. The outcome is likely to determine the type of CSA leadership that will go to the ICC and make critical decisions, both for the game and for SA cricket.
The MC thinks it should run the game and have more provincial presidents and fewer independent directors on the board. The IB believes there should be more independents with varied skills to run the game. If the MC has its way I believe that this will be disastrous for CSA in the context of what is required at the ICC.
South African cricket was plunged into crisis in 2018 and 2019 and has been increasingly “laughed-off” internationally. It is the result of exceptionally poor leadership at both board and executive management levels. CSA now needs to appoint leaders on the board with proper skills who can fix the game in South Africa and from whom competent individuals can be appointed to sit at ICC level.
What people fail to recognise in South Africa, is that because we’re so focused on internal issues we forget we are simply a small cog in the wheel in international cricket.
If international cricket is broken, then all cricket suffers. So it is of fundamental importance that you send the best people, with real understanding and ability to deal with the complexities at ICC level for the state of the global game.
If this doesn’t happen I see CSA continuing down the path of increasing irrelevance as the bigger, and smarter, countries increase their dominance of the global game. This will ultimately translate into reduced revenues and an inability to retain South Africa’s best players in the face of the lure of the T20 leagues.
I don’t buy the MC’s well-worn contention that the provincial presidents are all “cricket people” who will look after the game. Some of them maybe, but I believe a better job will be done by good independents who between them understand cricket, transformation imperatives and the business of cricket.
It’s time for CSA’s MC to sharpen up and to understand that they don’t have the requisite skills to deal with the complexities of the international game, or for that matter to dig cricket out of the hole it has dug for itself here at home.
Their role is not to try to run the game but to appoint the best people to do that on a board with requisite skills and expertise.
Anyone who cares to look a little more closely at the dynamic of world cricket will tell you that there is a small country that always punches above its weight in world cricket.
It is not one of the big three but is influential, well respected and has developed important strategic relationships with other countries ensuring its bilateral programme, retention of its players and strong international teams.
New Zealand Cricket has a board made up entirely of independent directors offering a mix of skills and expertise. The MC needs to put aside self-interest and take a leaf out of this book. DM
Tony Irish is the former CEO of Saca and Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) in England. He has more than 20 years’ experience of the inner workings of CSA.