Whatever your thoughts on Saturday’s novel Solidarity Cup 3TeamCricket event, it marks the first exposure to meaningful action for any major South African team-sports stars on domestic soil since the coronavirus lockdown began in late March.
On the assumption that the Nelson Mandela-honouring occasion goes off without any notable hitches in its bio-secure environment at Centurion, it begs the question: What next by Cricket South Africa (CSA) to take advantage of this privilege in “pioneering” activity by their big-name players?
Cricket beat off both rugby and soccer to some form of restart, even if Saturday’s exercise is essentially an experimental, low-gravitas cobwebs remover in what is still officially mid-winter in the country.
But it provides precious live fare – featuring most of the cream of Proteas players – for television broadcaster SuperSport (11:00 start).
While July is a highly unusual month for cricket, South Africa has enough, widely-differing regional climates, in common with Australia, to feasibly facilitate activity for the sport out of season in portions of the country – and the weather forecast was extremely favourable, in advance, for Saturday’s Highveld spectacle behind closed doors.
It is far from unheard of, for example, for the national team to play on our soil during August: It happened both in 2015 (white-ball clashes) and 2016 (two Tests) when New Zealand were the visitors each time.
Purist cricket followers, some of them perhaps not wildly charmed by the 3TC idea, will be keen to learn what CSA has in mind next to get our premier cricketers firing on all cylinders, just in case of a reasonably sudden return to ICC rostered responsibilities; a two-Test tour to West Indies is still supposed to be a winter obligation.
But just how far ahead are CSA’s bosses even able to look?
That is a concern their former CEO – and also at ICC level – Haroon Lorgat, for one, certainly has.
“The current off-field problems are enormous,” he told SA TIMES. “There are so many distracting issues; who is actually able to spend time thinking up creative ideas (for the players) at present?
“These racism-related issues that have bubbled up are not unexpected; they’ve been building, and generally not handled well. But here we are.
“The 3TC event will be overshadowed by events (the widespread rallying beneath the Black Lives Matter banner) of the last few days … there will be some tension in those changing rooms, and among administrators present, and it won’t be a comforting environment.
“But look, it will be a good thing just to get the players on the field again: The country needs a stimulus and the cricket public have missed these faces for a while.
“We want to see cricket, but it is also important to get the messaging right in the (current climate).”
Just as the return of English Premiership football recently had lifted sporting spirits worldwide, Lorgat said, simply seeing the SA players strut their stuff again would be a healthy development “even though I don’t know too much about the intricacies of 3TC”.
Renowned as a creative thinker and shrewd exploiter of window periods for international matches, Lorgat was instrumental, then as CSA’s supremo himself, in ensuring the Black Caps’ winter presence in South Africa several years ago, and he hopes the national team will see proper combat before too long.
“I was always hugely open to the idea of August and September international cricket, often featuring some of the ‘smaller countries’ as visitors, on our shores,” he said.
“The big advantage was that it would leave us prime space in early summer for the T20 Global League (Lorgat’s brainchild before he controversially parted ways in 2017 with CSA, which later became the Mzansi Super League).
“If they weren’t going to the UK in the English summer, New Zealand, for example, were always pretty keen to come here in late winter or early spring; there is no way you can play cricket in their country at that time of the year.”
It was suggested on SA TIMES recently that CSA explore the possibility – assuming mutual governmental blessings and cooperation – of inviting neighbours Zimbabwe here for a series, given that such a trip might not have to involve relaxation of international flight curbs.
“Yes, you could explore a ‘Zim’ option … the only snag might be whether they could even afford to pay their players, or a bus journey to South Africa.
“We might have to underwrite it, and CSA has well-known (cash-related) problems of its own.