July 2010

Issue Home >>


This game is about players

Unions are not the problem SA manager tells WICB

“When I see the state of West Indies cricket today, it saddens me.” Ordinarily, those would be the words of a patriotic West Indian, but because of the extraordinary impact West Indies cricket has had on the global game, it simply echoes what has been uttered by cricket patriots from England, Australia, Pakistan, India…everywhere.

When Goolam Rajah, Logistics Manager of the South African national cricket team (and Manager of the Deccan Chargers in the Indian Premier League) said it at the Seventh Annual Sonny Ramadhin Distinguished Cricket Lecture, its poignancy was heightened by the tale he had just told of his experience in South Africa pre and post apartheid.

Mr Rajah’s lecture, “Transformation over the last 20 years in South African Cricket,” was related from a fairly personal perspective. He spoke of the existence of two cricketing bodies in the apartheid days, “one conventional one, the white component” and the black one, “which is where we belonged.”

“If you were non-white in South Africa, you could never play for South Africa,” he said, and the rebel tours of the period were not helpful to the cause.

“If you were sitting where I was, you look at rebel tours as a form of acceptance of the white cricket and you give credibility by your presence.”

He recalled that one of his proudest moments was when Viv Richards rejected a lucrative offer to play in South Africa, saying it would be blood money and Ian Botham followed suit, saying he wouldn’t be able to look Viv in the eye.

He said the Minister of Sport under the ANC Government of Nelson Mandela gathered about 20 members from the two cricketing bodies, locked them in a room for discussion, and told them that by the time he returned he wanted one cricket administration.

“If he had not done that, we would never have seen Makhaya Ntini or Herschelle Gibbs,” he said, lamenting that he had never seen the three Ws (Walcott, Worrell and Weekes).

“Today, I can proudly say that our South African team is picked on skill and merit and not on skin colour. I, for one, was beaten up, thrown into a jail, because I believe if you are good enough in terms of skill then you should be allowed to play for your country,” he said, as he emphasized that things have changed.

“Certainly, in my lifetime, you will never see an all-white South African team again.”

For those who knew of the struggles within West Indies cricket to have players selected on the basis of meritocracy rather than skin colour (captaincy especially was the provenance of white players), Rajah was telling an extreme version of a story they knew. He was aware of that.

“I believe that South Africa had bigger challenges and bigger obstacles in its path, because we also had ideological battles,” that made things seem hopeless, he said, as he compared the state of South African cricket with that of the West Indies.

The West Indies nation has produced the best players one could imagine, he declared, “and I look at this nation, and I look at your best cricketers today, and I ask myself what has gone wrong?”

Mr Rajah chomped at the heart of that question.

“I believe this game is about players, and the sooner administrations realise this, not only in this country, the better. It is time your players’ association, your administrators and your Board [WICB] sit down in a room and agree to disagree.”

Unionism, he said, is a fact of life and “it is time administrators accept that.”

“If you think unions are your problem,” he warned, “there are much bigger ones.”

Saying that Test cricket is under threat because of the wildly growing popularity and profitability of Twenty/20 cricket, he said players now ask why they should play Tests when they could earn four times the amount in T20 matches.

The challenge for the WICB is to accept that twenty/20 is here to stay but not to let Test cricket die. The best T20 players are not sloggers, he said, citing Sachin Tendulkar as an example. He said if the WICB was not careful, it would lose the Viv Richards and Brian Laras of the future.

“I don’t believe the team you have at the moment is the best team in the Caribbean,” he said. “Show me one cricketer in the last 10 years who is half as good as Viv Richards, half as good as Gary Sobers!”

He said the WICB must ask where it wants to go and what would be the cost.

“You have to have the infrastructure to produce the cricketers of tomorrow,” he said.

Saying he believed the recently launched High Performance Centre located at UWI’s Cave Hill Campus, which is the coordinating hub of the WICB regional cricket academy, will go beyond basic cricket and teach life skills as the South African academy does, he said this was necessary because “God-given skills are diminishing.” He felt this was an important developmental step, but as he closed off he asked rather testily, “How many of your West Indies cricketers are used in developmental programmes in the Caribbean?”