Lean times loom for SA cricket

2011-12-07 13:25
Graeme Smith (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – As if the continued, widely-publicised exposure of its financial irregularities isn’t enough, Cricket South Africa faces serious other challenges over the next year or so regarding the vitality of the game itself.

Its image ever more battered as the Nicholson Inquiry runs its course, and a recessionary economic climate hardly helping matters, CSA has the unenviable task – although their marketing and public relations strategy is usually energetic and often effective – of trying to stimulate interest in international itineraries which, frankly, don’t get the domestic blood pumping.

I am aware that various commercial partners and stakeholders in South African cricket are at the very least “nervous” about a 15-month home trot for the Proteas, starting very shortly, that embraces visits by Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Pakistan respectively – none of them currently considered “top-tier” attractions in this country.

The fifth-ranked Lankans, hampered by injuries among their already ho-hum pace bowling stock, open their tour with a three-day fixture against a SA Invitation XI at Benoni on Friday, before moving on to three holiday-season Tests at Centurion, Kingsmead and Newlands respectively.

Many cricket fans are still lamenting the criminally condensed series against Australia -- done and dusted in off-peak early summer - and that dissatisfaction could well translate into modest gates, at best, for good parts of the Lankan Test itinerary.

It is hard to envisage bumper crowds at Centurion before Christmas, though weekends on the agreeable grass banks can prove popular if cumulus clouds stay away, and the Boxing Day encounter at Kingsmead may similarly struggle for bums on seats, especially with the potentially unfavourable weather and light issues (arguably aggravated by overly pedantic umpires?) always lurking nearby.

The Cape Town Test, particularly if it happens to be decisive – although there are no guarantees of that, given Sri Lanka’s lamentable Test track record in South Africa – shapes up as the most atmospheric, as always, given the iconic New Year billing and the public relish in that city for the Test format, usually regardless of opposition.

Even at Newlands, though, the blue-chip annual fixture these days only begins on January 3, because of the mandatory full three-day gap between Tests, meaning that the often gold-mine day of “Tweede Nuwejaar” (January 2) is bypassed and some people go back to work immediately thereafter.

The five-match ODI portion of the tour could also be said to face certain hazards, even if one-day cricket is generally a stronger suit for the 2011 World Cup-finalist Lankans.

That is because CSA, in a move that should perhaps not automatically be condemned, has seen fit to bravely schedule the lion’s share of the 50-overs games at smaller centres like Paarl, East London and Kimberley.

At least the cricketing gospel is being spread, but it nevertheless remains to be seen whether the public in those parts respond to a meaningful extent to the novelty of international cricket in their usually sleepy hollows.

If gate receipts do prove to be lean against Sri Lanka, particularly in the Tests, similarly ominous issues seem likely to present themselves when next season’s respective visitors to South Africa are New Zealand (ranked eighth in Tests and seventh in ODIs) and then, beyond the holiday period, Pakistan (sixth and fifth on the ICC ladders at present).

The Proteas are due to play another of those disliked two-Test series against the Black Caps, who are gritty and sometimes stubborn but continue to lack Hadlee-esque individuals in modern times, and then three against the Pakistanis, with plenty of limited-overs activity obviously thrown in for good measure.

While Pakistan always unearth some ridiculously gifted individuals, they have been largely innocuous as a collective force for many years and also labour more greatly than most under the shadow of match-fixing and political and other upheaval domestically.

Even if the next-generation situation changes for the better over the next few months, neutrals rue the fact that that country’s finest fast bowlers Mohammad Asif – who could probably cut the ball either way off a bed of glue – and Mohammad Amir are mischievously branded “the most lethal prison new-attack attack ever” after the disgrace of their convictions and sentencing on spot-fixing charges.

South Africa, at least, have attractive away assignments over the course of the next year that will keep fans of Graeme Smith’s side close to their televisions if not contemplating travelling for them – three Tests each in England in the middle of 2012 and then Australia in early 2012/13.

But I fancy that keeping home fires burning, for a variety of undermining reasons, will be a very, very tall order until top-tier opposition mercifully returns here with India’s tour in 2013/14.

Ironically, if some “good” does come out of the Sri Lankan, New Zealand and Pakistan visits before that, it may only be to persuade embattled CSA to more forcefully back the lobby campaigning for much greater emphasis on strength-versus-strength Test cricket involving the Proteas, India, England and Australia ...

Read more on:    csa  |  graeme smith  |  cape town

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