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The voice of cricketing reason

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LUKE ALFRED

He understands it as a former player, as a cricket thinker and, more recently, as a cricket dad with two cricket-playing sons. Such exposure – and understanding – allows him to talk about the sport with a long-suffering love always balanced by the idea that things are never quite as bad as they seem.

In such tumultuous times, his words are a balm and a tonic.

Bacher believes, for instance, that in spite of last week’s blood-letting at Cricket SA, the grassroots of the game are healthy. South Africa will always produce good young cricketers, he says, intimating that in spite of the destructive attentions of the administrators, the conveyor belt of talent is chugging healthily along.

“One of the positive things with all the negativity floating about last week [when Cricket SA parted ways with under-siege chief executive, Thabang Moroe, and Standard Bank withdrew as a sponsor] was that our conveyor belt remains as good as ever,” says Bacher with relish. “I am very excited about players like Janneman Malan and his brother, Pieter, down at the Cobras in the Cape.

“I don’t always get to watch as much as I’d like, but we’ve still got an embarrassment of talent. In that respect we’re still very healthy.”

Along with more high-profile names like Francois Pienaar, Bacher was roped into a panel to compile a report into South Africa’s performance after the 2015 Cricket World Cup, a prescient piece of work that never saw the light of day. Many of the issues he and others recognised as being barriers to success then are still present in the system now, he notes wryly, and although he doesn’t go on to detail everything, he does recognise that the endless politicisation of SA cricket serves no positive greater end.

“We talked then about team culture as being important,” he says. “Graeme [Smith] and Gary [Kirsten] bought into and drove the Protea Fire culture, but we haven’t really carried that on.

“One of the things the All Blacks are so good at is that the culture is bigger than any one player. Players can come and go, but the culture remains larger and more powerful. We’ve lost that.”

On the subject of Smith, Bacher thinks that his old King Edward VII-school colleague has a potentially vital role to play as director of cricket as England arrive for four Tests over the holiday season. “What you’re really looking for is a separation of powers,” he says. “I remember Jacques Faul [Cricket SA’s new interim chief executive] from his days when he was able to turn a profit at a small union like Western Transvaal. I think he should be allowed to concentrate on the commercial side of things, while Graeme handles the cricket issues and everything to do with the national team. I hope that comes to pass.

“What we also need is a return to a culture of watching the game. I know it’s not easy to put aside all the issues, but we need to say to the fans, ‘Please, come and watch’.”

Bacher’s love of the game has expanded over the years because he has two cricket-playing sons, Dean (15), a batting all-rounder like his dad, and Chad (12), a strong-willed leg-spinner who is already showing signs of being his own person and staying away from Adam’s old high school, King Edward VII.

Dad watches the boys playing cricket most weekends, and has developed a healthy respect for the benefits of club cricket – something he thinks is scandalously neglected by the authorities. “I watched Dean play with a very talented young 24-year-old club player recently,” he says, “and the older player helped him learn more in that afternoon of club cricket than he would do in months of playing at school.

“There were a few choice remarks thrown around, and he had to deal with a good spinner who bowled to attacking fields, but it was marvellous because the older player basically guided Dean through his innings. There’s not enough of that. Club cricket is generally neglected, it’s definitely a forgotten element.”

Correlatively, Bacher believes that the system is over-reliant on the schools producing the next KG Rabada or AB de Villiers. The learning gained from playing against wiser, cannier – and sometimes nastier – men is invaluable, he says.

By extension, one of the problems with our junior national teams is that these boys are embraced by the system too quickly. They are put into “training groups” and “pipelines” and “academies”, the kind of cricket hothouses that encourage them to grow but perhaps in slightly skewered and unbalanced ways.

This aside, Bacher isn’t pessimistic about South African cricket or the summer to come. The talent is there, he says. Let’s hope it gets its chance, because if the Proteas beat England in the Boxing Day Test at Centurion, much of the bleeding of the past week in cricket will be forgotten.

And we need that. We need that more than we know.

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