Last week The Star’s cricket writer Stuart Hess interviewed Cricket South Africa’s chief executive, Thabang Moroe, and wrote about it.
Tucked away in the piece was the following 24-carat gem.
“As things stand,” Hess quoted Moroe saying about national coach, Ottis Gibson, “he’s not getting a contract
extension unless he wins the World Cup.”
Reading through the story revealed that Gibson knows that winning the World Cup is a condition of his contract extension, so you could argue that he’s gone into this predicament with his eyes open.
Even taking this into account, though, the Moroe quote seems remarkably ungenerous.
Or thoughtless. Or both.
Moroe doesn’t say along with this, for example, “We, as CSA, will, however, do everything in our power to help Gibson and the players win the World Cup”.
He doesn’t say that the World Cup has become a bit of a Holy Grail for South African cricket and we’re trying to be realistic in our expectation.
He says that Gibson has to win it or else, which makes it rather sound like a threat from a teacher to an errant schoolboy.
There is, of course, some context here, context Moroe seems disinclined to discuss.
South Africa have conspired to knock themselves out of World Cups for nigh on 20 years, so much so that it’s become one of the poor taste jokes of South Africa’s fledgling democracy.
In 1999, playing Australia at Edgbaston, Lance Klusener ran and Allan Donald, mesmerised like a sleepy rabbit, pretty much stood still; four years later in the Kingsmead rain, the team forgot to add a single run to the Duckworth/Lewis table in a game against Sri Lanka.
Four years later, a stuttering display in which loses to Bangladesh and New Zealand were interspersed with wins against the West Indies and England in the Caribbean, culminated in the Proteas batting first in their semi-final against Australia and collapsing to 27 for five.
The game was over in the first hour.
In 2011 South Africa couldn’t score 220-odd against New Zealand to win a quarter-final in Dhaka, Bangladesh, while behind-the-scenes selection fiddling marred the semi-final against those self-same opponents, New Zealand, in Auckland in 2015.
The crowning irony – SA cricket revels in irony – was that the winning runs for New Zealand were scored by an ex-St Stithians College schoolboy, Grant Elliott, dropped beforehand because JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien couldn’t decide on who would take the catch to probably ensure the Proteas’ passage to the final.
“Would you like to drop the World Cup?”
“No, please, after you.”
We see, then, that there’s a deforming context here. There is an expectation in excess of what the current side might reasonably achieve. There is all the angst of history. All sorts of unforeseen things can – and frequently do – go wrong.
There’s pain and disappointment and confusion yet Moroe, a chief executive who sups controversy in the way that others sip a cup of tea, behaves like a cross between the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu and an English Premiership manager.
Win it – or else!
A couple of days after Moroe’s statement, so the team he hopes will win the World Cup in England this winter played their first ODI at home this season.
Perhaps thinking that Pakistan would be the pushovers they were in the recently-completed Tests, South Africa meandered to 266 for two batting first.
At the change of innings, Mark Nicholas, the normally unflappable English commentator moonlighting for SuperSport, was puzzled.
He muttered about the Proteas’ innings being a throwback to how 50-over cricket was played 10 or even 15 years ago.
On a by far from straightforward wicket, it was a sedate, blithely untroubled meander to a total neither one thing nor another.
Perhaps the South Africans reasoned it was enough because they would simply bomb Pakistan, who would meekly capitulate as they did in the three Tests.
It didn’t happen, Pakistan winning by five wickets with five balls to spare.
To be fair, there were some extenuating circumstances. Rassie van der Dussen was on ODI debut, and anxious to do well.
He and Hashim Amla batted for much of the innings together and Amla was anxious to do well for other reasons.
Some believe it is moot that he should be in the SA ODI side at all.
His hands aren’t what they used to be and he’s no gazelle in the field. The two forged a kind of negative consensus together, batting for themselves rather than the team.
Then Faf du Plessis took an eternity to discover that Pakistan – given a whiff – weren’t simply going to collapse like a line of dominoes.
He needed to impose himself on the game, attack rather than defend, but it was too late.
Humiliated in SA for a month, Pakistan weren’t going to let the opportunity pass them by.
They knew they could beat the Proteas because they did so at the Champions Trophy in England last year.
South Africa were as dreadful in that tournament as they were at St George’s.
Yes, appropriately stung and chastened, they will do better at Kingsmead in the second ODI later today and might yet recover to win the series.
But don’t bet on it.
Talk of winning the World Cup, from whatever quarter, is – as usual – premature.