South African journalist and broadcaster, and Cape Town resident, Neil Manthorp joined Michael Atherton for a helicopter ride over the cape during the second Test between South Africa and England at Newlands.
Click on the video above to watch as Manthorp and Athers take in the spectacular surroundings, including Table Mountain, the Cape Town Stadium – built for the 2010 World Cup – Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was famously imprisoned, and Cape Point.
Manthorp also gives some insight into the challenges facing South African cricket after their recent struggles….
How tough was 2019 for South African cricket?
Manthorp: “Both on and off the field, it has been really difficult. The year began very well, but with a very bitter tinge, because the 3-0 Test series win over Pakistan was largely masterminded by Duane Olivier. He took 24 wickets in three Test matches. He then immediately left to go and sign for Yorkshire.”That was the high, on the field but, as I say, tinged with a certain amount of bitterness as he was just 26 years of age.
“That was followed by the first-ever loss to a team from the subcontinent at home in Test cricket, to Sri Lanka. It was a massive surprise when South Africa lost the first Test, but there was the general assumption that it was a blip and would be corrected, but they lost the second Test as well.
“Then the preparation for the World Cup was a disaster. The three senior players who were promised extra rest and recovery time in order to repair – Kagiso Rabada, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock – didn’t get it.”
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Atherton: “The issue is the requirement to put out your best and most competitive team – the essence of international sport – with the absolute necessity to produce a team that is fully reflective of the country as a whole, given the unique circumstances from which South Africa came after years of apartheid. Within that, comes the occasional chaffing point or point of conflict where the two will slightly rub against each other.”
Manthorp: “There’s a lot of talk about the moral imperative, correcting the wrongs of the past, providing opportunity and making the team look more representative of the demographics of South Africa. But then you have to balance that with the very essence of professional sport, which is the pursuit, achievement and reward of excellence.
“If you were to select an England team and you said, ‘pick the best team, but it must include two players from Middlesex’, it may well be that it doesn’t impact the team’s excellence at all, but it is inherently compromised.
“Kagiso Rabada, by his standards, has suffered. He had a very poor 2019 – though he was still South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker, with over 30 wickets at 27. And that’s a bad year for him!
“But he’s had to play in every game. He has not been afforded the opportunity to rest as even he, at the age of 24, is beginning to realise rest is necessary. You can’t play in every single game, all of the time. There’s terrible pressure on him as well, knowing he has to front up.”
Allan Donald almost played for England
Manthorp: “I covered Warwickshire before I came back to South Africa. And, at that time, a very homesick and very young Allan Donald became a friend of mine. He was on the verge of playing for England.
“He had made his mind up; he’d basically said yes. But Ali Bacher was in highly-secretive negotiations about returning to international cricket. In 1990, it seemed not just inconceivable but utterly fanciful that South Africa would be back.
Atherton: “He was Warwickshire’s overseas player then and, before South Africa were readmitted, he was pondering whether to become English-qualified, like Graeme Hick, Robin Smith or Allan Lamb.
“To think, all those years later, I could have been a team-mate of his, rather than him firing bullets at me from 22 yards away. He would have been a handy addition to our side.”
South African cricket in debt
Manthorp: “The truth is the forecasted debt of 654 million rand, it’s almost certainly higher than that. Cricket South Africa made a couple of cuts here and there and said it might be 350 million, but it’s certainly going to be more than that.
“The establishment of a domestic T20 league was seen as absolutely paramount to Cricket South Africa. They cleared the international fixture list in that prime time of November and December, a time when South Africa, if they weren’t touring, always hosted an international team. That, of course, provided vital income.
“A whole bunch of international players were signed on two-year contracts. They had to be compensated. The broadcast rights were given to SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation), who are bankrupt, so they didn’t have any money to pay for it anyway.
“So, not only is the league not generating any income for Cricket South Africa, it has actually cost them money. And because the international calendar was cleared for the T20 league, the television rights deal for South African cricket is now a lot less for the next four-year cycle.
“That budgeted 650 million rand loss was based on the television deal not just remaining the same, but increasing. It’s actually going to decrease. The South African Cricketers’ Association believe the forecasted debt over the next four years is more likely to be a billion rand.”
Hope from the new coaching set-up
Atherton: “Faf du Plessis said on the eve of the first Test in Centurion that he just felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders with the incoming (Mark) Boucher, (Graeme) Smith and (Jacques) Kallis and that he could just get on and concentrate on the game in hand.”
Manthorp: “It certainly is good news. People said to me, ‘how much difference can a coaching team make in the space of 10 days?’ Absolutely no difference when it comes to hitting, bowling and catching a cricket ball. But it’s the atmosphere.
“Let’s go back to just two weeks before England arrived, Faf didn’t know whether he was going to be captain – he hadn’t been reconfirmed – there was no selection panel, the only member of the coaching staff that was full-time was Enoch Nkwe. Complete and total chaos!