On a plane getting ready to take off early on Saturday morning from Cape Town to Johannesburg, the man in seat 25A was not pleased. He was mistaken if he thought he could escape a July day that was already sweltering inside the chilly cabin of a jet. The air conditioning system had a problem, a steward stated, and would turn on when the engines were started. We were everyone sweating in misery, including the airline employees. We all reluctantly agreed that a calming breeze would arrive soon.
A horizontal patch on the back of his head flared crimson with spotted rage as his words burst through the thick air. Individual hair follicles that had been surgically removed from that region had been transplanted into his widow’s peak, where they bristled like dark, spiky seedlings amid the pale pastiness of his skin. After the engines groaned to life, the temperature dropped as predicted. The whining from seat 25A followed suit. Only a little more than halfway into the flight, which didn’t quite last two hours, the bright Cape sky began to turn into a wispy cloud. A sizable, unstirred cappuccino soon grew beneath. A spoon with wings dove into some ice cream.
Underneath, the depressing streets of Johannesburg continued on and on in the gloomy greyness, punctuated by potholes and marked by piles of trash to indicate the city center. Even the days’ worth of relentless rain that was still falling couldn’t remove it. A group of about 40 people sat down for lunch at a posh restaurant less than two kilometers from the Wanderers four hours after that plane took off from Cape Town. We received word as we were doing so that the final had been forced to be moved to Sunday due to bad weather. Others were sponsors, while still others were reporters whose travel, lodging, and meal expenses were covered by the sponsors. Some of us were crowd participants who caught objects with one hand, putting us in line for cash awards. Graeme Smith was one of us. Though none of us were the morning grumps, thoughts went to him regardless. Had he come to Johannesburg specifically to see the game?
He didn’t seem to be a fan of cricket, but that wasn’t important. In the first week, the SA20 collapsed those banks. It quickly turned into a resounding success by all standards, not just a cricket success. A public that had grown tired of the negative perception of cricket was won back to the game thanks to energetic marketing and excellent play. When the spectacle reaches that level, everyone comes out, including the ugly types like our fellow in 25A. Just 14 of the 33 matches had been played when the final was declared sold out. Despite all the obstacles South Africa throws in the way of hope, Smith, the league’s commissioner, managed to make this whole thing function amazingly effectively. He had access to more money than South African cricket had seen in decades, if ever. This was helpful. But without Smith, nothing resembling the SA20 would have happened.
A person with first-hand knowledge of the operations of the SA20 stated Graeme has worked night and day for months on this with just a small staff under a significant lot of strain. When all the broadcasters were on edge, he was the one who drove the media rights deals and got the franchises approved. He was the one who inspired a group of folks. And he did it all after the CSA pursued him in an arbitration hearing when he was fiercely criticized. Although he occasionally has the ability to alienate people, he is a remarkable leader. At the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings in July 2021, Smith was accused of racism in claims that date back to his time as South Africa’s captain. In the SJN study, he was the subject of tentative conclusions. Unsurprisingly, when his employment as the director of cricket for the CSA came to an end at the end of March last year, he chose not to seek a new contract. He was cleared of all accusations by two impartial arbitrators less than a month later.
Therefore, praising Smith has come to mean criticizing the CSA. This situation is unfair since a different board from the one that founded the SJN was given responsibility for responding to the SJN’s worrisome but subpar report. Ironically, the sole major accomplishment of a reckless, self-destructive board that played a significant role in the game’s disastrous course was the development of the much-required SJN. Additionally, it must be remembered that the SA20 is a CSA product even though the IPL owns its franchises. However, the rest of South Africa’s cricket is not thought to have tarnished the competition. Some claim that this is the case because the SA20 does not fall under the CSA’s transformation aims and so maintains a level of integrity that has been lost in other areas of the game. People who appear to have forgotten that not that long ago, no one who was black or brown could play for South Africa will most likely be the ones who say this to you. They closely associate merit with being white.
Others believe that the SA20 is problematic because it ignores transformation. This is equally foolish. The franchise owners are not obligated to make sure they purchase an adequate number of black and brown players. The CSA must make sure there are enough black and brown players who are worth buying. The uncomfortable fact is that change, as it is applied in South African cricket, has not succeeded in producing enough top-notch players to make the game more representative of the country its teams represent. That is neither the SA20’s fault nor a matter for it to handle. It’s CSA, but it isn’t the only difficulty they will face. The fact that the SA20 took an eight-day vacation after 22 games to make room for the men’s ODI series against England caused a sigh throughout the nation and should serve as a warning: if you give people something better to watch, don’t be surprised when you take it away. And don’t mistake loyalty for patriotism.
To win the series, the South Africans put on their best white-ball performance in a number of seasons, maybe as a result of the SA20 lifting everyone’s spirits. But in the T20 Women’s World Cup opener against Sri Lanka on Friday at Newlands, it was back to earth with a jolt. A poor performance brought South Africa one more defeat away from battling to make it out of the group stage. A glimmer of hope was provided by the fact that New Zealand, their opponents at Boland Park on Monday, had similarly messed up their opening match, against Australia on Saturday. However, in their previous twelve T20I matches against New Zealand, South Africa had only won two of them, and never when they had batted first. They weren’t very confident in their score of 132/6, which was helped by the Kiwis losing four catches in the final five overs. Only for New Zealand to falter to 18/4 after five overs and be dismissed for 67. The home team’s early elimination from the competition was avoided, at least until they faced the Australians, every team’s dreaded foe, at St. George’s Park on Saturday.