St George's Park History
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Urban Legends St George's Park - Cloud of Gloom Hangs Over Players
Cloud of Gloom Hangs Over Players

AS the time draws near for the United Cricket Board to settle the franchise issue, provincial players countrywide will begin pondering their future with at least 50 per cent of them likely to be looking for other work next year.

After several years of dithering, the national body took the plunge this year by deciding to decrease the number of first-class teams from 11 to six, with provinces joining forces and each region applying for one of the franchises.

Since the initial announcement in July, there has been no further communication on the issue as a UCB sub-committee under vice-president Robbie Kurz attempt to finalise a rather complex process.

The final decisions are expected to be made by the end of December.

EP and Border will still be hoping that they can persuade the UCB to add another franchise to the list of six, so probably allowing them to operate as separate entities. But if the status quo remains, it will be a major setback for cricket in the Eastern Cape and could severely hurt the development programmes which have proved to be successful on both provinces for several years.

But getting back to the players, the arithmetic is that, besides the 20 nationally contracted players, there are currently 172 players contracted to the 11 provinces. With the teams being reduced to six, it basically means that 86 players will drop out of the system, a prospect which must clearly be a concern for them.

From an EP point of view, the players haven't done themselves any favours with a series of disappointing performances this season. Besides a few exceptions, there can't be that many who will be completely confident of being offered contracts under the new dispensation next summer.

The main problem for EP has been the inconsistency. There've been some good individual performances – Carl Bradfield, James Bryant, Arno Jacobs and Johann Louw have all made centuries – but they've mixed that with indifferent performances not designed to attract the favourable attention of the decision-makers when it comes to choosing next season's squads.

Players with national contracts like Robin Peterson and Mfuneko Ngam are obviously in a much better position, and fast bowler Nantie Hayward must be a factor provided he can keep a rein on his wayward temperament. But it's going to be a nervous time for quite a few other players.

If EP cricket does continue to operate as one of the franchises, the administration will need to take a long, hard look at their playing personnel for the 2004-05 summer.

In the last four seasons, EP's record in the first-class competition has been little short of abysmal. Including yesterday's match against Easterns, the Jumbos have played 24 matches in that time, of which 13 have been lost, nine drawn and two won.

It's not an impressive record by any stretch of the imagination and is something EP cricket need to seriously investigate at a much deeper level than merely the make-up of the senior provincial squad. The tendency in modern sport is to blame the coach if something goes wrong, which is not a belief I necessarily subscribe to, even if Springbok rugby coach Rudolf Straeuli is offering a powerful counter-argument to that theory.

The players are the ones who are responsible for what happens on the field and a coach can only do so much.

But the coach has to do everything possible to prepare his players for the match and whether Jumbos mentor Kepler Wessels feels he has the right players or not, he must also bear some responsibility for the direction in which EP cricket is going.

Wessels is in his second season as EP coach after being used as a consultant in 2001-02 and it would only be fair to let the summer run its full course before judgment is made on his coaching abilities.

If the franchise system works in EP's favour, there should be the opportunity to substantially boost the playing ranks next season and it would then be Wessels' challenge to mould the squad into a more competitive unit.

One thing Wessels could do this season is to take his attack, strap them to chairs in a darkened room and make them watch videos for 24 hours of Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock bowling.

This might teach Hayward, Ngam and company the value of bowling a more consistent line and length.

Three down the legside, two wide of the offstump and a bouncer an over is not a recipe for success!

The Herald
November 18, 2003

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