Too many chiefs by half

Mickey Arthur announces his resignation Getty Images

Five years ago, at a press conference called to unveil South Africa's new coach, Mickey Arthur turned up tieless in a shirt that shimmered with diagonal purple stripes. "Cool shirt," a reporter quipped when he collected his voice recorder as the conference broke up.

"Really? You think so?" a beaming Arthur blurted. Clearly, nothing was going to go wrong for him that day.

Five years on, at another press conference, Arthur again wore purple. But this time it was the colour of the straight, narrow tie that clutched at his throat. He said that Cricket South Africa (CSA) and he had "different visions" for taking the team forward. The most important difference between them might well be the fact that CSA reckons its chief executive, Gerald Majola, is a better choice for selection convenor, albeit temporarily, than Mike Procter.

Arthur reminded all present that he had been part of some of the most glorious moments in the history of South African cricket, notably South Africa's first Test series win in Australia and the one-day miracle match, where South Africa successfully chased a target of 435 to beat Australia.

But the calm vanished as he thanked his "lovely family" for putting up with the intrusion of his job into their lives. The ever ebullient voice cracked, the chubbily cheerful cheeks were suddenly streaked with tears.

This was not the face of a man who had voluntarily resigned his position. If Arthur wasn't pushed - and everyone involved keeps trying to tell us he wasn't - he certainly wasn't behaving like someone who jumped.

Why would Arthur be replaced? One reason could be the success of South Africa's national rugby team, the Springboks, under Peter de Villiers, their first black coach.

De Villiers defied predictions of dire times by rugby's conservative establishment to guide the Boks to a series victory over the British Lions and earn South Africa's second-ever win in the Tri-Nations, an annual tournament that more often than not is won by New Zealand.

In a society in which politics is sport and sport is politics, it is entirely plausible that CSA is under government pressure to follow rugby's lead by appointing a black coach. South Africa's blip in form last year, when they won just one of the six Tests they played, would be a convenient excuse to do just that. The same argument would apply to the wholesale jettisoning of Procter and his selection committee.

Arthur's demise could also have been brought about by the unchecked growth of player power within the South African squad. Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and AB de Villiers form an unsplittable atom of senior players in the dressing room. This, of course, is no bad thing. They are all fine, hardened cricketers with much to impart to younger players. Besides, small personalities are hardly abundant in international cricket.

But it is worrying to hear that a clique has formed within the squad, that there exists a group of players whose word is law, and that Arthur - a gentleman in the kindest sense of the word who would struggle to suspect anyone of taking the hand when a finger is offered - failed to assert enough control.

"Kepler Wessels' involvement won't be universally welcomed. "He's like a bluegum tree," one of his detractors said, "nothing grows under him." Wessels is as singleminded and stubborn as any figure in a team sport can be. It really is his way or the highway, and best no-one forgets that"

Need we be reminded that the last time South Africa became victims of this dangerous mischief, Hansie Cronje was exposed as a crook and the integrity of the game itself was damaged.

Which brings us to the appointment of Kepler Wessels as a selector and as the team's batting coach. At 52, Wessels scarcely looks different from his days as a Test opener and captain. He hasn't gained a visible ounce of weight, and he still trains daily. He is his own example - tough, fair, unbending.

So those who would look to exert authority they do not rightfully have within the South African squad should beware: Wessels won't stand for that.

Here's an indication of the approach he might bring to his new role. Several years ago, Wessels wrote a newspaper column in which he criticised the fitness levels of players in the South African squad.

Kallis called Wessels to complain. Wessels asked Kallis to hold the line a moment. He returned with a copy of the squad's latest fitness statistics, which were rather more useful to Wessels' argument than Kallis'. The younger man endured an awkward few minutes as his older and wiser comrade told him chapter and verse why he needed to get out his running shoes more often.

However, Wessels' involvement won't be universally welcomed. "He's like a bluegum tree," one of his detractors said, "nothing grows under him." Wessels is as singleminded and stubborn as any figure in a team sport can be. It really is his way or the highway, and best no-one forgets that.

And so begins South Africa's venture to India at the dawn of a brave new world, one in which Majola thinks he is the boss because he is the chairman of selectors. Except that Smith considers himself to be in charge. Wessels, of course, knows the buck stops with him.

Too many chiefs by half. What profit might the Indians make out of that?