Seven months after the Western Cape Cricket board (WCC) chose to reject the recommendations of an independent mediator in a player dispute over then-coach Paul Adams, the organisation appears to be reaping what it sowed.
The squad named by the Cape Cobras for the 2017/18 season on Thursday (April 20) has confirmed that the franchise has lost two of its senior players, has failed to attract top talent from elsewhere and will fall back on a youth policy next season. The loss of talent, along with other problems that have subsequently arisen, was predicted in a report filed by Paddy Upton last September that was recently obtained by Cricbuzz.
Upton was appointed as an independent mediator to deliberate in a standoff between the majority of the Cobras players and Adams, who they believed was not fit for the job of head coach. Upton recommended that Adams stand down from the position and even offered the franchise an attractive exit strategy in which the cost of paying Adams off could be covered, and Jacques Kallis could be installed as an interim coach. He also laid out the potential ramifications of keeping Adams on, which have largely come to pass since the board rejected his report citing “material deficiencies”.
Although a disastrous start to the season saw Adams removed as coach in December – more than a year after the Cobras players first raised concerns around his coaching methods and personal conduct – the board elected to keep him on in a well-remunerated high performance role that was rejigged to accommodate him. Adams’s continued employment has hamstrung a debt-laden franchise as it attempts to balance the books for next season, with the situation not helped by the fact that the Cobras were unable to source a sponsor for the 2015/16 season, and that their sponsor for the past season, BuildNat, went into liquidation last year.
Players whose contracts were up for renewal have been offered reduced deals, and some have decided to leave. Wicketkeeper Dane Vilas, fast bowler Beuran Hendricks and batsman Omphile Ramela have all left, while batsman Qaasim Adams – who was out of favour at the Titans – is the only player to have joined the franchise.
While Ramela’s move was based largely on family reasons, Vilas left after the Cobras offered him only half of what his previous contract was worth. The reason given was that Vilas had signed a Kolpak deal and would only be playing for half of the year but another player, who asked to remain anonymous, pointed out that Kolpak players had not been treated similarly before. “The new rule speaks to how bankrupt the Cobras are as an organisation,” he said. “Nobody wants to go to the Cape right now no matter how beautiful it is. No one wants to put their career in the hands of that sort of organisation.”
WCC chairman Beresford Williams insisted that his only regret from the Adams saga was that it was not dealt with early on. He admitted that the last two years have been “difficult” financially for the organisation, but said that there was a sponsorship offer on the table for next season. He refused to acknowledge that the board had been wrong to ignore Upton’s advice.
“I’m not prepared to acknowledge it because there was no evidence that Paul misconducted himself,” Williams told Cricbuzz. “There was nothing brought against him that was in breach of his contract or he brought the game into disrepute. At the time, it would have been easy to thank the man for coming and paid the man out in terms of the balance of his contract. I mean, we were not in the position to pay him out of his contract. In fact, that would have been irresponsible, not having the money to pay him out.
“When it reached the point where we were not winning games, then we dealt with the issue as a team that was not winning. So the issue around the relationship with Paul and the disputes was one issue, but the issue about the team losing was a different matter that the board considered, and we made the decision to move on.”
Players that Cricbuzz has spoken to have confirmed that the manner in which the Cobras administration handled complaints about Adams left many of them feeling disenfranchised. The issue was first raised in 2015, when players mentioned their lack of faith in Adams in post-season questionnaires – despite the Cobras having won five trophies in four seasons under the former South Africa international.
Those concerns grew over the 2015/16 season as the Cobras’ fortunes dipped and the franchise went trophy-less. They were accompanied by complaints about Adams’ personal conduct. At one point, the players alleged that Adams was unable to perform his duties as a coach during a day of Sunfoil Series cricket because he was suffering from a hangover. The allegations were never proven or fully investigated by the board.
“At that time, there was no report presented to us that there was any basis for those allegations,” said Williams. “It was unsubstantiated. No base was presented to the board. We’ve moved on. We’re rebuilding the team. We’ve introduced some new players. We’ve announced our squad. The coach is working very hard. We’re quite upbeat that we had a bad season, we didn’t win a trophy, and we’re working towards turning things around on and off the field.”
Despite the fact that the allegations were accompanied by concerns among the majority of the players about Adams’s coaching, the board went ahead and approved a new two-year contract for the coach last May. The response from the players was for 10 of them to raise formal grievances, which eventually led to the appointment of Upton as an independent mediator between the players, Adams and the franchise.
Upton’s report made a clear case for why Adams should have stepped down. It was compiled in September 2016 after speaking to 21 different individuals: 10 players, one ex-player, six board members, Adams, Dien and two employees of the South African Cricketers’ Association, who were aiding the players in their grievance process.
Based on those interviews, Upton’s report claimed that much of the credit for the Cobras’ success in Adams’ early years was due to the systems put in place by his predecessor, Richard Pybus, and the core of senior players who maintained those systems. “It was alluded to by a number of parties that some of Paul Adams’s shortcomings in leading individuals and a team were evident in these early stages of his tenure,” Upton wrote.
The report added: “As senior leaders within the team left, and the previous coach’s systems no longer had the same traction, Paul’s shortcomings as a coach reportedly became more and more evident. Specifically, these are reported to be in the areas of a) providing guidance, planning and support for individual players’ career paths and game improvement, b) providing strategic leadership in terms of team strategies and game plans, c) providing leadership in creating a good culture within the team, d) social conduct that was becoming more of a fellow player than a coach.”
The report described both the breakdown between the players and coach, and Adams’ shortcomings as a coach, as “significant”. It added that Adams “did not appear to comprehend the extent of his shortcomings as coach, nor the degree of breakdown between himself and the players. This is born out, for example, in his ‘surprise’ when the dispute was tabled, and his naivety in wanting for him and the players to ‘just come back together, put things aside and focus on winning trophies again’.”
The report also pointed to a problem with the “systemic functionality” within the franchise, and provided three possible scenarios for how the future could play out. The first scenario saw no change to the status quo, the second had Adams staying on as head coach with improved support and an undertaking to continue his coaching education, while the third scenario had Adams stepping down as head coach of the Cobras, but receiving support as he continued in a coaching role within the provincial system.
In each scenario, Upton outlined the pros and cons. “It is important to note that the solution should carefully consider Paul Adams and his coaching future,” he wrote. Taking that into account, Upton advised that the board should follow scenario three, noting that while it would carry short-term challenges, it provided “the best chance of succeeding in terms of the Cobras cricket performances and the Cobras brand, and holds potential for the least amount of short-term and certainly medium-term pain for the player-coach-board-SACA-CSA system as a whole”. He went on to highlight that it placed the players at the forefront of the solution, because of their central role in the game.
Although it was not included in the report, Cricbuzz has learnt from two sources that Upton also offered further solutions should the board follow scenario three. With WCC on poor financial footing, there were concerns about paying Adams out for the two-year contract that the board had recently approved. Upton made it known that a private sponsor had come forward with an offer to cover the shortfall, and also told the board that Kallis was available as a caretaker coach for the season, should it be required.
However, after considering their options, the board rejected Upton’s report as “materially deficient” because he had not spoken to all of the Cobras players. A source suggested that Upton’s failure to interview two players who were in favour of Adams was used as ammunition by some members of the board. The board elected to follow scenario two, appointing Ashwell Prince as Adams’ assistant as well as bringing former Cobras player Alan Dawson on board as convenor of selectors.
Upton’s forecast for scenario two was that: “key players might leave, while others would lose their commitment to the Cobras; the ability for the franchise to attract top players from elsewhere would be compromised; the Cobras team performance would likely deteriorate; board-player relationships were likely to be compromised; a higher likelihood that Adams’ reputation would be further damaged in South African circles; a higher likelihood than not of the player-coach dispute resurfacing, with potentially more significantly damaging ramifications later on.”
Under Adams, the Cobras lost three of their first five Sunfoil Series matches, drawing the other two, and won three of their seven completed games in the T20 Challenge as they failed to reach the knockout stage. Dawson stepped down from his position after just six weeks, saying that “at this stage as a convenor, I cannot make any difference to the performance of the team”. And at the end of December, Adams stepped down as head coach and was replaced by Prince.
Asked for comment by Cricbuzz, Upton said: “For a ‘materially deficient’ report it has proven remarkably accurate in its predictions. It’s sad that this has happened at the Cobras, particularly as it was all so avoidable. It almost seems that finding the best solution for the Cobras was not the priority.”
If there is to be a saving grace for the franchise going forward, it is that Prince has generally been well received in his first major coaching job. The Cobras won three and drew two of their Sunfoil Series matches after his arrival, but then went on to finish last in the Momentum One-Day Cup. “He’s an excellent coach,” said an insider with knowledge of Prince’s methods. “Crucially, he tells it how he sees it and he doesn’t back down, so he won’t be pushed around. Don’t be surprised to see the Cobras being competitive next season, despite the administration.”