Taking the shine off it
For a short while before and during the Adelaide Test match at the end of the November there were concerns that South Africa’s famous series victory would be overshadowed, or at least have to share our future memory space, by the captain’s sugary ball-shining escapades.
But the quality of the cricket played by Faf du Plessis and his team was simply too high and too enduring to be usurped by the illegal application of mint sauce to the ball, no matter how sensational the Australian media’s coverage. Or how stubborn the captain and his employers were to accept that he had, clearly, broken the rules.
Now we have another distraction just a couple of Test matches later. The man-of-the-match in Hobart, where the series was won, has walked away from the Proteas to pursue a domestic career in England – and taken one of the country’s best batsmen with him.
Du Plessis described the performance and result as “near to the perfect Test”, but it was impossible to ignore the technical shortcomings and mental fragility of the opposition. It may seem churlish to measure the victory in terms of the opposition, but it is also inevitable. It is a little easier to be ruthlessly efficient against a team with neither the skill nor stomach to fight.
The truth is, the New Year Test of 2016-17 might well be remembered at least as much for Abbott’s walkout as for Elgar and de Kock’s runs or Rabada’s wickets.
Equally inevitable is the level of emotion with which the subject has been debated (by those who want to debate it) and the fear with which others have avoided the topic.
Faf, at least, did his best to set a calm and mature tone, accepting Abbott’s decision, regretting it, and being careful not to comment about Rilee Rossouw, who had been earmarked for a leading role in the Champions Trophy in June.
One thing which genuinely puzzles me, however, is the angry denial by some senior administrators that the workplace environment for many domestic cricketers has been made to feel less secure by the increase in quotas. And that the imposition of quotas has made the national squad players feel less secure, too. It is simply a fact.
Any working environment in which pay rises, perks and promotion are not deemed to be ‘natural’ by the work force will have suspicion and insecurity within it. Family connections, sharing an alma mater with the boss, accent, place of birth – and, of course, race. They all may contribute to making our places of work unfair. No work place is fair or free of suspicion, so why pretend that cricket is?
Just because somebody points out or comments on the effects of quotas it doesn’t mean that he or she disagrees with their implementation or doesn’t understand the reasons for their existence. But they do cause insecurity (over and above the natural insecurity of a professional sportsman’s life) and if a player is good enough or lucky enough to be offered an alternative workplace environment, they are likely to be tempted.