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Cricket news - Another messy day of cricket for CSA
Like most journalists, Stuart Hess didn't want to make the news when he arrived at the Wanderers on Sunday morning. Unlike most journalists, he didn't have the choice. Hess, who undertook his first tour as a cricket writer to India in 2001, is among South Africa's leading practitioners of the craft. His name is known in every nook of the land where the game is played, watched and loved, and in a good many such nooks in the world beyond.
But when he arrived at the ground to cover the Mzansi Super League (MSL) match between the Jozi Stars and the Paarl Rocks, and presented his press pass at the gate, he discovered his accreditation had been revoked. Hess was given no reason for the action taken against him. In the ensuing hours, four other reporters - all of them also senior figures on the South African and international scene - found out they had suffered the same fate.
An email from Cricket South Africa (CSA) that had landed at 10.10am (South Africa time) on Sunday informed stadium staff around the country to "please be aware that the following journalists' accreditations have been revoked". The reporters named were Hess, Neil Manthorp, Firdose Moonda, Ken Borland, and me. No explanation was offered, but no forensics were needed to know the voices being silenced belonged to some of the most objectively critical cricket writers in South Africa.
Tickets got us into Newlands - Johannesburg-based Hess of course excepted, along with Borland, who was covering a minor golf tournament somewhere in the bush - for the afternoon's game between the Cape Town Blitz and the Tshwane Spartans.
So the first few paragraphs of this story were hammered out in the stands at the northern end of the ground. A few paras later came an invitation from those running a hospitality box. The kind offer of desk space and power was gratefully accepted.
Then Hess received an email from CSA to inform him his "application" for accreditation had been "processed" and "approved" - the last word proclaimed in bold type. It was duly learnt that the four other reporters' accreditation had also been restored.
This story, then, was completed where, on any other day at the cricket, it might have begun: in the pressbox. My accreditation had gone from ready for use to rescinded to reactivated in the space of six frenetic hours. And that on my first day as Cricbuzz's South Africa correspondent. The editors wouldn't be human had they not wondered whether contracting me was a mistake.
This is not a wail against the invented injustice of being made to traipse around a cricket ground in the cause of trying to write an article. Cricket reporters are among the most mollycoddled in journalism. They are usually accommodated in air-conditioned comfort, afforded the best view, and given free wifi, food and drink. And the price for all that is that they have to force themselves to write about a game they and their readers find enthralling. It's so much better than a real job.
But the episode is a snapshot of a day in the life of the clumsy soap opera that cricket in South Africa has become. Did no-one at CSA think about the consequences of provoking people who are significantly more trusted to tell the truth than administrators? Did no-one second-guess the idea of coming across as heavy-handed bullies and enemies of press freedom? Did no-one wonder how much more damage this kind of disaster might do to an organisation already not short of fires to put out?
Clearly not. Bizarre as the saga itself was, the explanations for what had happened were stranger still. A computer glitch was one theory - the last time we looked computers couldn't tell critical reporters from the rest - another that news of the revocation was a deliberate falsehood spread by CSA internally to try and identify the source of the leaks that plague the organisation.
CSA's chief executive, Thabang Moroe, went on television to say Hess' pass had been pulled because he had not sought comment from them for pieces he had written. Only for another official to deny Hess' accreditation had been revoked at all. You really couldn't make this up - no-one would believe it.
Whatever next? Hansie Cronje and Elvis are playing hop-scotch on a beach in Borneo? Donald Trump's tan is real? CSA's suits know what they're doing?
The irony is that, while this piece was being written in various venues, a compelling game of cricket was being played on a perfect summer Sunday in front of a crowd of 6,800 - small for a ground that can hold 25,000 but the biggest of the competition so far. Shiny nuggets of runs gleamed up and down both innings, and Dale Steyn shrugged off the years and the scar tissue to dismiss Dean Elgar, Wiaan Mulder and AB de Villiers for 10 runs.
Wonderful stuff, and exactly the kind of story cricket in South Africa needs to move minds out of the negative gear they're stuck in because of daily hints, allegations and proof that things could not possibly get worse.
Except that they can get worse, and they did. And they will. Who won the match? Who cares.
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