A LONG way from St Kitts, but not very far away from Cricket SA’s headquarters in Johannesburg, one of the country’s greatest and most important cricketers was making his feelings known about his former employers. To say he wasn’t impressed would be an understatement.
Makhaya Ntini’s rise to his current status as head coach of Zimbabwe has been somewhat more rapid than his coaching career at home — which never really got off the ground.
There is more than a degree of irony expressed in the country that no place could be found in a system trying so hard to transform for the man who took 390 wickets in 101 Test matches.
About a decade ago, Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) went through much of the pain of change that SA is currently experiencing, and many of the administrators are now gazing south with a knowing look.
“Should have done it sooner,” they think and, occasionally, say.
Much of the talk about the way forward for the Zimbabweans from the malaise in which they find themselves — 12th in one-day international (ODI) cricket and without a Test ranking — revolves around the need for role models.
Every single player who enjoyed success with the national team or boasts a decent if not outstanding international record has either left the country or is no longer involved with the game.
Former national captain Alistair Campbell tried to reverse that scenario when he was appointed MD of cricket affairs, but now, he has moved on, as have the coaches he appointed, Heath Streak and Grant Flower.
But role models and heroes are still required, so ZC decided to acquire a ready-made one.
When Ntini arrived in Harare, he was soon informed by his new employers about the importance to the wellbeing of cricket in Zimbabwe of support from his countrymen. Hence his speaking out this weekend about the lukewarm if not stone-cold attitude shown towards the establishment of regular cricketing contact — an annual three-match ODI series, for example, such as the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy played for by Australia and New Zealand. Ntini may or may not be aware of it, but such an arrangement was actually agreed on and minuted six years ago in the final days of Gerald Majola’s tenure as Cricket SA CEO and at the beginning of Campbell’s time at ZC headquarters.
He attempted to remind Cricket SA of the agreement and hoped it would still be honoured despite the change of regime, but to no avail.
Campbell also asked Cricket SA to run level 2 and level 3 coaching courses in Zimbabwe, and managed to secure a commitment from the relevant department, but nothing happened.
There is no excuse for fraud of any sort, but it may be the reason that former Zimbabwe captain Prosper Utseya and two other prospective coaches recently obtained fake Cricket SA coaching certificates, somehow.
The cricketing merits of the Proteas playing against a team as weak as the current Zimbabwe side can be justifiably debated, especially if conventional logic is applied. If, however, the example set by the Indian team currently playing in the country was followed, a great deal of good might result.
MS Dhoni is captaining a young squad with six debutants, which will provide the country with depth as well allowing Virat Kohli etc to rest.
Cricket SA will argue that they are “doing their bit” by sending an SA A team, but that is of limited value. It may provide competitive cricket, but it costs ZC money and, with the greatest of respect, playing an A game in an empty ground does not compare to the real thing.
Ntini’s plea was to the spirit of ubuntu, fellowship and brotherhood. SA, he said, had a moral duty to support its younger brothers up north. It is a compelling argument.
But SA is still bound too much by tradition. The idea of resting more than one or two players for a full international tour is too much to stomach.
It shouldn’t be. ODIs and Twenty20 internationals do not carry the weight of Test matches and Zimbabwe, with respect, do not compel the participation of De Villiers, Morkel, Du Plessis and Steyn.
The national selectors and administrators might consider setting an example to the Proteas players and offer the support that might, just might, help Zimbabwe fight their way out of a slump so deep they may not be able to recover.
For all sorts of reasons, it might not be the right thing to do, but it would be the right thing to do.