"South Africa cricket does not have the right leadership" - Paddy Upton slams existing model [Exclusive]

Paddy Upton worked with South African cricket for a few years [PC: SLISB]
Paddy Upton worked with South African cricket for a few years [PC: SLISB]

Former Cricket South Africa (CSA) Performance Director Paddy Upton has torn into the existing model of hierarchy present on the cricket board, claiming it does not have the "right leadership" and "right people" currently running the show.

South African cricket has been muddled in turmoil for less than a year, dating back to September 2020, when the then-existing CSA board was asked to step down. That move subsequently forced an interim board in place, interestingly consisting of members who were also part of the previous setup that was asked to stand down.

Since then, Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher have assumed roles within the CSA, while most of the news around South African cricket has zeroed in on what is now a debate that might have been put to bed.

Just for context though, the topic was to coax international cricket heartthrob, AB de Villiers, out of retirement just ahead of the T20 World Cup, all of this while CSA's existence was and still is on the verge of coming to a sticky end.

The story continues a little more than nine months on, with the lack of direction blended with the political nature of CSA's operations sticking out like a sore thumb, with no clarity surrounding South African cricket's tumultuous future.

In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Upton expressed his utter dismay at the 'shambolic' state of affairs in the CSA, slamming the 'clutter' and 'distortion' that is present in the system.

Q. South African cricket is in a spot of bother, with no clarity on what the future holds. What do they need to do to get back into contention as one of the best teams in the world?

If I just use a big picture of the world that we live in today, if you want a successful business, you need to have a really successful professional team. For an organizational system put in place where you've got the right leaders, with the right knowledge, with the right strategy, you need to have the right systems. You need to then employ the right people in the right positions.

South African cricket is just not set up, it does not have the right leadership. It does not have the right systems, it does not have the right people in place. So, as a result, when it moves down to the team and the performance end, things are a little bit of a mess.

It’s really just a very simple equation of an organization that is not professionally put together with the right people, with the right skills doing the right thing, and that's universal across any business.

Across any organization, any sport in the world, you have to start with the right system, right people, the right intentions and you build from the top down. And as long as we sort of have got this infighting and politicking that's going on, and having the wrong people in positions or in those positions with the wrong agendas, unfortunately it’s going to spill down and like it’s happening now.

I think we'll see the South African cricket team going to the T20 World Cup and they won't be going with their strongest team or the best combination, and it really started quite a long time ago with the fish rotting from the head.

Grame Smith has quite a task at hand, to resurrect South African cricket
Grame Smith has quite a task at hand, to resurrect South African cricket's future which has taken a nosedive

Q. How do they then decide who is the right person for the job, and how do they nail down the perfect canditate for each role?

When I was talking about sort of putting it together, I'm starting with the CEO and the president and from there, putting it down. So when you get down to, for example Graeme Smith’s role, he's the Director of Cricket and you've to make sure that he's got all the support systems and the right structures around him which allows him to do the job and bring his expertise to the job.

At the moment, Graeme Smith is being asked to do just too many things that are outside of his role and his capabilities, even sometimes because of the mess around him. As a result, he's not able to give full and dedicated support.

For example, look at Mark Boucher. So again Mark Boucher is having to deal with things like player contracts and selection stuff and things that distract him from actually focusing on what happens in the nets and inside the ropes on a cricket field. So you've got good people like Boucher and Smith in positions but around them you don't have the support structures that allows them to focus on doing their job properly.

There is too much noise, too much clutter, too much distortion in the system at the moment. People aren't actually able to focus on their job, which is just picking the best players, getting the right combination and getting them ready, you know, for the next T20 tournaments before the World Cup coming out later this year. So you just have a system that's not put together very well.

SA's T20 Challenge is not even spoken in the same breath as IPL, BBL or other competitions

Q. What about SA competing with other countries to host their own T20 League? Is that a lost cause?

T20 cricket itself is obviously a debate that has been going on for a good couple of years. Now, the T20 format around the world is getting more and more popular, more and more following. It is moving in that model. For example, we look at what happens in the football world where there's more club football than there is international football. I think T20 cricket is really threatening the global game in that regard and will continue to do so given the popularity and the rise of these T20 tournaments.

Obviously South Africa, really to drop the ball one, being really late on coming together with their T20 tournaments and then making a spectacular mess of the initial one or two. At the moment, the local T20 tournament is nowhere nearly as competitive as the IPL, the Big Bash League. Even something like the Caribbean Premier League and the Pakistan Super League are doing a far better job than what South Africa is doing in terms of putting on a domestic T20 League, which is unfortunate for the young South African players.

Paddy Upton spoke highly of IPL
Paddy Upton spoke highly of IPL's contribution to global cricket

If I look at what IPL has done for young Indian cricketers, it's just shot them literally so much further ahead of any of their T20 peers around the world. The foreign players have been lucky enough to play in the IPL and that's taken their T20 game really so far ahead of their peers back in their home country. So the IPL really has been incredible in terms of not just learning to play T20 cricket, but to play games in front of big crowds under huge pressure, it's been an incredible advance to the game and I can only see these T20 leagues just going from strength to strength.

For the next good few years we're going to see this horse trading and fighting amongst the different countries in the leagues to try and find the best window with the most foreign and big-name players available. So it's in a very exciting space and just hopefully we can manage the players.

Well, through that, obviously the conversation that players are feeling really tired. They are running from country to country, bio-bubble to bio-bubble, quarantine to quarantine. It really is taking a toll on the players, but hopefully it's not something that's going to last for the long term.

That's a big challenge for the players at the moment and I think we'll see that play out in the World Cup a little bit as well. We'll have them quite tired, bubble fatigued players arriving at the World Cup. I think quite a few players might not make the World Cup through injury or just mentally not being in a good space.

Players have had to play inside bio bubbles because of the ongoing pandemic [PC: IE]
Players have had to play inside bio bubbles because of the ongoing pandemic [PC: IE]

Q. Is there a solution to keeping players mentally stable? How about the ICC making it a norm to have a team psychologist or someone who keeps a tab on players' mental health?

Whose responsibility is it? I'm not sure if it's the ICC's. They could obviously recommend it. Or is it each national team? Maybe the BCCI or Cricket Australia, is it for them to make a recommendation? Is it for the coach or the captain to make the recommendations at that moment? We don't really have a precedent whose responsibility it is to make a recommendation.

But I think that it's accepted that the challenges at the moment on players' mental well-being is greater than what it's ever been. We've always known the mental side of the game is so important. It's now the volume that has been turned up more than ever before. I do believe in the role of somebody or a system to support players’ mental well-being. Each team I would suggest would be well advised to sit down and say "how can we take our mental well-being of players and the support for that to the next level?"

I don't think there's necessarily just one answer, but I think if each team is intentional and deliberate about upping their support for their players, I think it'll count. Particularly when it comes to those big tournaments and again we’re looking at you know, the World Cup coming up at the end of the year.

I think the team that has players who have managed themselves, the best players in the best mental space, have already got a significant advantage over the other teams in terms of their ability to win it. So there's an advantage that sits there at the moment. I believe that hasn't been there before, just by getting close in a good space you put yourself on the front foot, to be able to go the distance at that tournament.

Edited by Habil Ahmed Sherule
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