The Good, the Bad and the Cash
All the best and most compelling reasons in the world, technical, financial and emotional, point towards the ‘IPL Five’ making their choice not to play in the two Test matches against Bangladesh and head to Mumbai to join up with their Franchises.
It is common sense. I have argued long and hard in defence of the players, for many years, building up to this moment, which was inevitable. I advocated the practical, fiscal temptation ahead of the emotional, ‘patriotic’ choice. Take the money while you can, I said. When you get injured and your country discards you, I said, you will be forgotten in five minutes. Look after yourself.
But I said so in the expectation of honesty, even brutal honesty. Which was naive of me. I’m pleased I am still capable of naivety. I’m much better at cynicism, unfortunately. But the lack of any honesty, gentle or brutal, from the players who have turned their backs on Test cricket has been bothering me ever since their decision was ‘announced’. Or not.
None of them has said a word, at least not publicly. It was hard to expect: ‘I am a professional sportsman with a limited career-span and I will play for the biggest cheque.’ That would have required guts and may not even have been true. How about: ‘I remain committed to playing for my country and this is, hopefully, just a once-off situation which won’t happen again once the international fixture list and schedule has been addressed.’
The second option would have been reassuring and comforting, if a little disingenuous. Everybody within the game knows that the international fixture list is never going to become less cluttered. The 50-over World Cup will revert to 14 teams in 2027 which means the excellent Super League Qualifying Tournament, of enormous interest to the Proteas at the moment, will disappear, unrequired.
It leaves the Test Championship as the only measure of relevance for bilateral series between nations. That may be a desperate shame for ODI cricket but, on the plus side, it should be a boon for Test cricket. South Africa is currently placed second on the WTC log following Pakistan’s loss to Australia. A couple of wins against Bangladesh and a 2-1win against an England team in disrepair in August and September will leave the Proteas well placed to contest the second edition of the Test Championship final.
So, what has been eating away at me? Perhaps it is that the IPL 5 made a ‘pact’ with each other to choose the IPL together – and not to speak about their choice. It does make them look guilty of something malfeasant, which they are not.
The sight of the eloquent, intelligent Rassie van der Dussen looking puffy chested with pride in his shiny new Rajasthan Royals shirt was a little irksome, but not as much as the syrupy message which accompanied it in which he proclaimed his honour at fulfilling a dream of following in the footsteps of so many of the greatest players onto the greatest stage in the game. Or something like that. It was galling. Especially from a player who was purchased using small change from the auction kitty to sit on the reserves bench. Rassie may or may not know that more players have already been signed up in 15 years of the IPL than have scored a double century in 144 years of Test cricket. That’s what ‘great’ batters do.
Dean Elgar implored the players to choose Test cricket and delay their departure for India when they returned home from New Zealand. On Tuesday, two days before the first Test at Kingsmead, he appeared to have made peace with the situation: “I’ve had conversations with the players and I’m comfortable with their answers”, he ventured. What were their answers, given that none have shared them publicly? “I’m confined to what I can and can’t say but the players were put in a bit of a situation regarding their availability, it was unavoidable. They didn’t want to hurt their opportunities in that tournament,” he explained. Or not.
“It’s an opportunity for others and we’ll have to make do with the players who are here…the excitement and hunger levels are right up there,” Elgar said. Excited and hungry cricketers do not necessarily make winning cricketers and with at least two likely debutants in Daryn Dupavillon and Khaya Zondo, the lack of experience will be keenly felt. Opener Sarel Erwee has two caps and Keehan Petersen five. The Bangladeshi spinners have been licking their fingers at the sight of a dry, almost grassless pitch. An upset is very much on the cards.
How does selection work for the England tour in July? South Africa’s cricketers will not play between the end of the IPL. Kagiso Rabada, presumably, walks straight back into the team but does the same apply to Aiden Markram, Anrich Nortje, Marco Jansen and van der Dussen? What if Zondo scores a century or Lutho Sipamla takes 10 wickets in the series? Are they tossed aside?
This could signal an acceleration on the slippery slope to irrelevance for South African cricket, the slope so selfishly and stubbornly erected by the board of directors three years ago. Their carelessness, in its most literal sense, has now spread to the players. As it always would.
Good luck to the ‘IPL Five’, with the utmost sincerity. I wish you runs and wickets aplenty and success for your teams and I hope you return to national colours wiser and better for your experience. Finally, I hope there are no long-term consequences to the game as a result of your choice, although that may be a wish too far.