It may take a long time for the whole procession of winners to come up for their trophies and certificates, but they are like precious treasure for them, and the fact that awards dinners usually focus on the club levels that are so crucial to any sport means I like them.
One of my favourites is the Gauteng Cricket Board awards banquet, which was held this week at the Wanderers Club, because, for me, it mirrors what I imagine transformed cricket in South Africa should look like.
This is a union that, a few years ago, was suffering from such internal strife and mistrust that the different clubs across the colour divides could barely sit in the same room together. And yet, there they all were, clubs from Soweto, Greenside, Lenasia, Riverlea, Jeppe, Azaadville, Thokoza and Florida, all enjoying a festive, celebratory evening together, all driven by MC Joey Rasdien’s wonderful mix of wicked humour and stern admonitions to keep focused on the prizegiving.
The current leadership of the GCB, from president Thabang Moroe, to the board, CEO Greg Fredericks and the staff, deserve credit for how they have dug Gauteng cricket out of their off-field hole.
Their professional teams, the Gauteng Strikers and the Highveld Lions, continue to win trophies on the field, and the Lions’ victory in the Momentum One-Day Cup means they have now won all the domestic trophies (four in total) in the four seasons that Geoff Toyana has been coach.
I would like to pay special tribute to Toyana (and senior players like Stephen Cook and Neil McKenzie) because it would have been easy for the Lions to find themselves in a hole on the playing field.
Toyana has managed to keep an often fractious dressing room – the outer veneer of a happy team is misleading because there are some difficult personalities that rub each other up in the changeroom – focused and winning, which is no mean feat and speaks volumes for his man-management.
The awful cloud of matchfixing has also hung heavily over the team and seeing a handful of his players being investigated for corruption has been like a kick in the solar plexus for Toyana.
National call-ups and SA A duties have also taken key players in and out of the team, but Toyana has handled this as well and the Lions have remained a force to be reckoned with.
In roughly the same time period Russell Domingo has taken the Proteas from the top two in all three formats to sixth in Tests, third in ODIs and fourth in T20s.
Steps have to be taken to arrest this slide. I certainly believe South Africa has the players to return to the heights of 2012, so the issue has to be related to the leadership and management of the side.
Cricket South Africa could do worse than to think seriously about elevating Toyana to the national coaching job. I believe he is one of those rare coaches able to both groom young talent – think of how Temba Bavuma, Aaron Phangiso, Eddie Leie, Hardus Viljoen, Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada have all made it into the national squad – and also to get the best out of wise old experienced players such as Cook, who is batting better and better, Alviro Petersen and McKenzie before he retired.
A player like Dwaine Pretorius has also blossomed under Toyana and the all-rounder, named the most valuable domestic player of last season by the SA Cricketers’ Association, is going to be knocking on the door for national honours as well.
A promotion for Toyana would allow Gauteng cricket to reflect on great success at both the upper and lower levels of the game, and they are certainly going to continue pushing the Titans hard for the honour of being South Africa’s premier franchise.