Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
Roger Telemachus was passed over for the job of Kwa-Zulu Natal Inland coach in favour of Michael Smith because Smith offered a more impressive interview, and not due to racial discrimination. That's according to Dolphins CEO Heinrich Strydom, who testified as a responder at Cricket South Africa's Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) Hearings and addressed allegations that Telemachus was unfairly overlooked.
Telemachus took aim at CSA's coaching hiring policy when he appeared at the SJN in July and specifically mentioned the appointment of the national coach Mark Boucher, while also discussing his own situation. He worked with the Kwa-Zulu Natal Inland team for seven seasons, during which time they won two trophies, and has since been appointed head coach of the Western Province Academy.
Strydom explained how Telemachus and Kwa-Zulu Natal cricket parted ways ahead of the restructured 2021-22 season, which reduced the number of jobs available in the system. South Africa did away with the franchise system and now have a 15-team provincial system, effectively reducing the total number of teams, and thus of head coaches, from 21 to 15.
"Mr Telemachus' contract with the KZN Cricket Union ended in April 2020 but at the end of that season, which was interrupted and abandoned because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to offer him a one-year extension until the conclusion of the 2020-2021 season, which he accepted. I can categorically state that no expectation was created that he would be re-employed once this extension had expired. For the 2021-22 season, the position of coach and assistant coach for the KZN Inland team became available and the positions were advertised in terms of KZN cricket employment policies. Mr Telemachus applied for these positions but was unfortunately unsuccessful."
The decision not to appoint Telemachus was made by a four-person panel, who interviewed all the candidates for the job and included the Dolphins convenor of selectors, who is also the cricket committee chairperson, the cricket services manager for KZN Inland, the coaching manager for KZN-Inland and a human resources administrator. Strydom was also due to attend the interviews but was unable to after a Covid-19 scare. Strydom confirmed that all members of the interview panel are of colour.
When asked why Smith, who was previously a high-school coach at the elite school Maritzburg College, was preferred over Telemachus, who holds a Level 4 coaching qualification, Strydom said: "In terms of the committee's feedback, they felt Mr Smith's presentation was very impressive and he adhered to all the requirements they have, so that's why they want to go with him," Strydom said.
He also said Smith's experience at the Pakistan Super League - he has worked with Islamabad United as batting coach - and in his personal capacity gave him an edge. "Michael Smith has coached various provincial and international players on a one-on-one basis. He has also been involved in the Pakistan Super League, where he has worked with international players and coaches. We felt from an experience point of view, even though he has never been a full-time head coach for a provincial team, he has worked with international players and the feedback we got regarding him was very positive," Strydom said.
Ombudsman advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza pressed Strydom to explain why a candidate who did not have Telemachus' playing and coaching experience was preferred over him if race was not a factor. "We did not just look at the issue of experience. We looked at all the issues, including feedback from players and, in terms of the interview, the impressive interview that Mr Smith gave. All those things were considered. We made an appointment which was felt was the best to take KZN-Inland forward," Strydom said.
Ultimately, Strydom conceded that KZN-Inland opted not to employ Telemachus based on his record, rather than his credentials. "We had seven years with Mr Telemachus of which our average position of where the team finished was ninth (out of 13) in the T20s, eighth in the List A competitions and seventh in the three-day competitions. In the last three years we won two trophies but over the seven years, it's quite a modest performance record which had to be taken into consideration," Strydom said. "And from various interviews and employee feedback reviews, where we had players who had been coached by him, a lot of players had a strong view that KZN has been overly accommodating to Mr Telemachus in this regard due to his performance and record over many years."
Contrastingly, Smith had overwhelming strong feedback from those he had worked with. "Mr Smith worked with various people all over the world. It was easy to get feedback from people about their experiences. The thing that stood out was the impressive interview and his plans in taking KZN Inland forward," Strydom said.
Strydom was asked to respond to an assertion by Telemachus that Strydom had told Telemachus that Smith brought more value and credentials to the post, which Strydom denied, although he recalled a conversation in which he thought he had cleared the air with Telemachus. "We had a conversation when he phoned me and he was quite aggressive in his tone in terms of why he didn't get the job. I can't remember the exact words I used, but the interview panel decided that Michael Smith was the best candidate to take KZN Inland forward. Even after that he said he understood and it was all good. To my surprise, the SJN was used as a platform to criticise the process we undertook."
Responding testimony at the SJN will be heard for the next two weeks before Ntsebeza submits his report to CSA at the end of November.