‘Targets’: It’s win and lose for CSA

2016-07-26 18:53
Chris Nenzani (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg – Ah … good old “targets” in South African cricket.

The devil always seems to be in the definition: does one properly exist? It’s tempting to venture not.

Targets, you see, are arguably only the more emotion-charged “quotas” in a “kind of” sense, if you get my drift.

They are supposedly more aspirational in intent than out-and-out prescriptive over the racial balancing of cricket teams in the country … at least that is the way I have often interpreted things in the ever-complex, delicate landscape.

So even as they dropped a bit of a curveball into the very midst of their lavish double celebrations here early this week (25 years of unity, and a night later the annual CSA Awards) by announcing on Tuesday that the board of directors had agreed in principle for the introduction of targets for its national teams, there was plenty of scope to ponder: what does this really mean?

Let’s examine it from an opposite perspective, as if facing a leggie’s wrong ‘un. What it doesn’t mean yet -- perhaps something not without significance – is that national teams have a designated figure to be religiously met in terms of their make-up, a policy that has been in place at franchise level to gradually increasing degrees in recent years.

Currently, the domestic teams are required, as stipulated before last season, to field a minimum of six players of colour and at least three of them must be black African, in all competitions.

For some time, CSA has insisted previously that there are no targets at national level, but now president Chris Nenzani says that “changing circumstances” have forced the organisation to “move with the times”.

But they stopped short in the announcement of applying an actual, desired target figure; Nenzani, possibly with a shrewd vagueness, said that would “depend on work to be undertaken by relevant committees to determine what is realistic and sustainable”.

I believe it safe to say that there are some influential figures from varying backgrounds, both in the CSA boardroom hierarchy and Proteas team management group, who would have preferred targets to remain a device outside of international plans, and still confined to the vital “feeding” tier one notch down.

When Nenzani talks of “changing circumstances” there is every likelihood, however, that he is effectively saying CSA have been persuaded by pressure from the sports ministry and broader Government to more closely align with their view, rightly or wrongly, on the correct pace of transformation.

In short, Government has sought pre-determined minimums over players of colour at the highest level of competition, whereas CSA had, until this point, been fairly steadfastly keener on more natural growth.

How many players of colour is the “right” tally? Er, how long is a piece of string?

As recently as last month, South Africa beat arch-enemies Australia in a one-day international in Guyana while fielding a record eight players of colour, including the entire bowling attack.

“There are occasions when the selectors pick the team and race, quite honestly, doesn’t even come into it,” an authoritative CSA figure told me on Tuesday.

That does seem to shout, or at least forcefully suggest, progress.

Be that as it may, though, at least some element of “manufacture” is soon, seemingly, going to officially bump aside merit as a compulsory criterion for selection at Proteas level.

An advantage will be that CSA ought to return to better favour with motor-mouthed Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula – perhaps even to the not unimportant degree that he may lift his ban on their bidding to host major international tournaments.

I have it on excellent authority, for instance, from an International Cricket Council insider that the world body is keen and willing to offer South Africa – a little in the cold, considering it is a supposed superpower, for big events since the Champions Trophy of 2009 – the next intended (2018) edition of the World Twenty20.

“South Africa wouldn’t even have to bid for it; it is all but sitting on a plate for them,” he said. “The ICC has come back around to the realisation that you can’t keep giving all major events just to India or England.

“The country is known to have hosted World Cups and others very successfully, and it also sits favourably from a time-zone point of view for the huge television market of the Subcontinent.”

Yet the thought that Proteas teams may soon, for the first time, be specifically compiled from considerations that go beyond just the appropriate requirements for the pitch of the day, is going to make plenty of their supporters shudder (and then some, in probably just as many cases).

It would represent a conscious a departure from the selection orthodoxy, if that is the right word, which characterises all other cricketing nations.

And at a time when the Proteas, negotiating a period where their powers have slightly waned across most formats and getting bums on stadium seats is a mounting challenge, any perception that they have succumbed to political correctness is highly unlikely to serve as a rejuvenating tonic.

All that said, it may be an opportune time for a sprinkling of perspective.

Just over 25 years ago, the cricket part of the South African fabric was riddled with as much turmoil and division as broader society, and the national team a dormant, 21-year skunk, unwelcome in official competition.

The marking of quarter of a century of unity on Monday brought together a galaxy of greats, of decents, and moderately goods, from several generations, and you would have to have been of seriously cynical mind not to detect discernible levels of goodwill, enthusiastic banter and nostalgia.

CSA aspired to pull in for the banquet every post-isolation Proteas player, and seemed to get pretty close.

Naturally some couldn’t make it, and sent regrets. But very, very few, by all accounts, said a more blunt, outright “no”. 

Whatever your thoughts on CSA policy or the various individual custodians at the core of it, it’s a tricky old game they have to play … and that’s well before you roll a pitch and insert stumps.

Or yes, even pick your XI.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  chris nenzani  |  cricket

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