A numbers game
“The English are not a very spiritual people,” George Bernard Shaw famously said, “So they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.”
It would be interesting to know what the playwright and polemicist might have made of the people who write about the game or what the players themselves say when trying to sum up a match.
Here’s Pakistan captain Azhar Ali at the conclusion of the first of three Tests against England at Old Trafford on Saturday, where the hosts squeezed out an unlikely victory: “It’s disappointing but not over yet, there are still two Tests to go.”
Well, you can’t fault Azhar’s arithmetic…
What follows, in this AFP post-mortem, is the usual prosaic fare; the losing captain trying to gee up his troops while sportingly acknowledging the victors: “There a lot of positives from this game… Sometimes you just have to give credit to the opposition.”
Ours is an era of sport psychology and PR, little wonder then that so many cricketers sound like they are reading from the same autocue.
It must be a dull business writing it all down.
ESPNcricinfo, as you might expect of a specialist cricket news website, did a rather better job of covering the Test.
Their team managed to tease out a good deal more drama with, for example, this account of how Jos Buttler saved the day for England and perhaps his own career, all while his dad was being admitted to hospital.
ESPNcricinfo even does a fun multimedia thingy called, #PoliteEnquiries, which has their commentators fielding questions/statements tweeted at them by the public.
It ranges from faux-serious stuff like (verbatim here), “Is Azhar Ali the worst player in the current Pakistan side? Horrible with the bat… perhaps even worse as a captain. Time to sack him”, to the plain daft, such as Who’s the most handsome all-rounder of all time, Chris Woakes (England’s hero on Saturday) or Imran Khan (a great from another era)?
Phwoar! Get a load of them bouncers!
“This Covid-19‚ ahhhhhhhhh I don’t understand it and I don’t think there’s anybody who knows it.”
No, not a rare moment of forthrightness from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. It’s Pitso Mosimane, the Mamelodi Sundowns coach, a man not normally known for self-doubt.
He was being quoted by TimesLive talking about how the pandemic had turned South African football’s Premiership title race on its head.
The more things change
Top-flight football resumed in South Africa on Saturday, with the Nedbank Cup semi-finals.
And the Absa Premiership league matches kick off on Tuesday (11 August).
It’s all happening in the so-called Gauteng biologically safe environment (for which, inevitably, an acronym has been coined – BSE), also known more conveniently as, the bubble.
Players would be confined to their hotels when not training and playing. And attendance at stadiums would be restricted to the teams, a certain number of officials, TV crews and others – no more than 100 people in all.
TimesLIve covered the televised briefing on Friday at which the Premier Soccer League chairman Irvin Khoza talked through the numbers.
We learned that at each match there would be a total of 40 players (11 starting and nine reserves per team); 14 technical staff; eight club officials; and four ball retrievers (two per team, plus one more from both benches acting as additional retrievers).
Also allowed would be five match officials, eight paramedics, one stadium doctor and one PSL media officer “and other officials”.
The TV chaps were granted two presenters, a floor manager, 12 cameramen, two cable-bashers and two static board or LED personnel.
Two men and a dog
What Khoza and apparently no-one else bothered to mention was that aside from matches involving Kaiser Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and perhaps one or two other clubs, there’s seldom much of a crowd at a Premier Soccer League match anyway.
Average attendance during the 2019/2020 season has been a paltry 7 375, according to figures available at transfermarket.com. And this figure is buoyed by turnouts for Chiefs, Pirates and to a lesser degree, Bloemfontein Celtic and Mamelodi Sundowns home matches.
Lowly Polokwane City FC, by way of an extreme example, averaged 2 353.
Not quite two men and the proverbial whippet, but it’s fair to day that the Peter Mokaba Stadium (a 2010 World Cup white elephant if ever there was one) looked a pretty empty place even in pre-new normal days.
Restarting the season was always about TV, of course, where the audiences and the money are a big deal.
The league is in a five-year R2-billion deal with SuperSport, as Craig Ray in the Daily Maverick reminds us.
Let’s call the whole thing off
Still, you’ve got to give SA soccer some credit. They’re getting on with it.
Their rugby colleagues, who have also been given the green light by the government to resume play (in empty stadiums), aren’t entirely sure what to do next and won’t be ready for a while yet.
Jacques van der Westhuyzen, writing for IOL, lists a whole bunch of bullet points under the sub-headings, What we don’t know and Questions that remain.
For starters, it’s not clear where the bio-bubble will be located.
The format of the Currie Cup has not been made known.
Most coaches say they need six weeks of contact training (non-contact training has been happening for a while) before their players will be ready.
And there’s no certainty on safety measures and protocols.
What were the rugby bosses doing during lockdown anyway? Brewing pineapple beer?
Why not call the whole thing off for 2020?
Don’t be silly. There’s a lot of money at stake and don’t forget there’s the real bosses to consider, rugby’s broadcast partners.
“He’s walked the high streets of Paris, experienced the glitz and glamour of Tokyo, and captured the beauty of southern France, but for Frans Steyn, Bloemfontein is still best.” – Jacques van der Westhuyzen waxing lyrical, this time about Frans Steyn preparing to turn out for the Cheetahs.