South Africa crashed out of the T20 World Cup after losing to the Netherlands ©Getty
Cricket in South Africa has been cast into limbo, a numb and numbing place pervaded by an anxious wait to exhale. The breathless silence is broken only by faint noises coming from the first-class competition, which is being played in something close to a vacuum.
Even there the questions outnumber the answers. If an ankle problem is why Ryan Rickelton was left out of the squad for South Africa’s Test series in Australia next month, how did he add an undefeated 108 this week to the 100 not out he scored last week, and keep wicket in both matches?
This is not as illogical as it seems. Cricbuzz understands that although Rickelton is able to keep playing, with the help of injections, he has been advised to undergo surgery in the next few months to repair ligament damage and bothersome bone growth. With the SA20 looming, he would be forgiven for not wanting to have that operation now – sources say his condition came to light only when it was noticed he was not moving as well towards his left as he was towards his right.
This puts CSA in a tricky position. Aside from their policy of not selecting players who are carrying injuries, flying a replacement from South Africa to Australia urgently should Rickelton break down wouldn’t be easily done considering the length of the flight, the time difference and the resulting jet lag.
So maybe some slack should be cut on that score, but not on others. Considering Theunis de Bruyn made 13 in his only innings this season before the Test squad was announced, and reached 50 just twice in 16 first-class innings last summer, and only once in his 23 Test innings from March 2017 to October 2019, how was he picked to replace the injured Keegan Petersen?
Temba Bavuma will not play any competitive cricket before he steps back into his role, in Australia, as the rock of South Africa’s Test middle order. How is he supposed to scrape himself off the canvas in the wake of the T20 World Cup catastrophe?
It was during that tournament, in Adelaide 20 days ago, that the game was dumped into this dazed and confused state – when Bavuma’s team suffered the greatest ignominy in even South Africa’s tragicomic history by crashing out of the running for a place in the semi- finals at the hands of the Netherlands.
Not only did they lose to a team who had no business beating them, they played as if they expected to lose; as if they were powerless to do anything about it; as if being bossed by opponents they should have thrashed was just another sorry fact of South Africa’s failing society, like the crippling inequality, widespread corruption, rampant crime and multiple infrastructure meltdowns that afflict daily life.
So the Adelaide awfulness could be seen as an episode in a slow-burning cataclysm rather than a standalone failure. It gave rise to the same disturbing question South Africans ask themselves every time they learn they will be without electricity for longer than they were the day before, a reality they face depressingly often: is this rock bottom, or is there room to fall further still ?
The start of what is being heralded as South African cricket’s financial saving grace, the SA20, is still 46 days away – 46 days that will feel like purgatory. The narrative that nothing less than the survival of the game, which until now has been strongly aligned with the performance of the national men’s team, is heavily dependent on the tournament’s success is not only well established but accurate.
If an ankle problem is why Rickelton was left out of the squad for the Tests in Australia, how did he add an undefeated 108 this week to the 100 not out he scored last week? ©Getty
The tour of Australia will begin with a Test at the Gabba a week after the SA20 ends, and will be followed by three Covid-postponed ODIs against England. South Africa will then host the women’s T20 World Cup followed by West Indies for men’s series in all formats before the Netherlands arrive for two ODIs, also pandemic leftovers.
There is, thus, plenty of international cricket on the doorstep in the coming months. But it isn’t being ushered into the public consciousness nearly as enthusiastically as the SA20. From a wider perspective in a shaky economy like South Africa’s, where links with the real world of hard currency are prized and in which the men’s national team’s star is fading fast, that is unsurprising. But even if the tournament exceeds expectations, lifting spirits like a sugar high and pumping the lifeblood of money into various coffers, it cannot fix what is really broken: trust.
Indeed, much of the confidence in the venture’s viability is tied to the fact that the trusted figure of Graeme Smith is serving as the league’s commissioner. Without him that would likely not be the case, and the funds that have flowed and will continue to flow CSA’s way because of the SA20 would have gone elsewhere.
Why should Reeza Hendricks trust that he will be treated fairly when he goes to the T20 World Cup having scored five half-centuries in seven white-ball international innings, and then spends the entire tournament on the bench? Given Hendricks’ sorry story, why should Heinrich Klaasen and Tony de Zorzi trust that scoring first-class double and triple centuries in the past seven days will make any impact on their international prospects?
What trust can there be that CSA’s review into what went so badly wrong at the T20 World Cup will expose the nub of the problems – there cannot be only one – when, 16 days after the probe was promised, the suits haven’t thought to update the public on its progress. Cricbuzz’ question on the subject to CSA on Friday went unacknowledged and unanswered. But it is understood the players have been interviewed.
Doubtless much of the above is up for discussion at a CSA board meeting on Friday. As one insider said, “It will be interesting to see what gets leaked from that.” At least we can still trust that will happen.