Transcript: Couch Talk with Firdose Moonda

Couch Talk Episode 55 (play)

Guest: Firdose Moonda, ESPN Cricinfo, South Africa Correspondent

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman– Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk.

Today’s guest is ESPN Cricinfo’s South Africa correspondent, Firdose Moonda, who has been covering the England-South Africa series from England. We will be talking about her experiences in England, some strange experiences she has had with the English media, the tour so far, the Kevin Pietersen situation, amongst other things.

Welcome to the show, Firdose.

Firdose Moonda: Thanks very much! Thanks for having me.

SJ: Isn’t this your first tour to England?

FM: Yes, it is. I’ve not been to the country before ever—not on holiday or work experience—a lot of South Africans come over for that kind of thing—but I’m never been here before this, so yes, my first tour to England.

SJ: How has the experience been so far?

FM: It’s been great, you know, it really has. It’s been everything I imagined it to be and probably better. I will say that the weather—people have criticized me for complaining about the weather, but I come from a very warm place in Africa and although it’s snowing in Johannesburg, by the way, at the moment. I’m missing the snow and it hasn’t snowed there since 1981 or something like that, which probably tells a bit about how old I am. But, in any event, the weather hasn’t been great—it has been a bit rainy and even when it’s sunny – there were two days in London where it hit 30 degrees—like Heaven for me. Weather aside it’s been a wonderful trip. It’s been great to see the culture and a world city like London is something I’ve really enjoyed. Even the smaller towns like Taunton and Canterbury, were just really lovely places and great to see how people live on this side of the world. Worcester was probably my least favorite. Leeds has been great. It’s really been a beautiful city—lots to see, lots to do. We’ve had a little bit of time off here as well, so from an experience point of view I don’t think I could have asked for better.

SJ: Let’s get to the start of the tour. You had mentioned in an article for Sport Live about the smug attitude of some of the English media insinuating as if South Africa were in England just to make up the numbers.  What was that all about?

FM: Yeah, you know, look, I think that the series and the coverage of the series as a whole has actually been quite one-sided in the sense that there’s been a lot of coverage from an England point of view, and yes, you know there have been times when it seems like South Africa or some seventh rate sub-continental side that’s turned up to drink tea and walk the streets. Which they’re not! They’re a quality side. Look, I’m saying this as someone who is not a fan of the South African cricket team or any cricket team. You know, it’s my job not to be a fan and I’ve managed to maintain that up until now, so I just don’t think South Africa were really given their due, I don’t think they were thought of as the class opponents that they’ve ended up being.

I think from a South African [point of view] —you know, a lot of the questions I got asked when I first arrived here on a couple of the radio stations and even just by fans and other journalists were things like, “So do the South African public expect South Africa to win?”, which really boggled my mind, “What do they think the South African public expects?” Look, I understand that South Africa has always been there and thereabout, they go to a World Cup, they say “we’re going to win,” and then they come back with nothing. They’ve challenged the number one ranking for the better part of two and a half years, and they haven’t got it, so I do understand that they’re sort of a second rate always-the-bridesmaid kind of side, but to think that they didn’t come here wanting and thinking that they could win, with real belief and real conviction, I don’t think has always been fair. They’ve shown, especially in the Oval Test, that they can dominate a side that is ranked number one in the world, and they’ve shown great intent, great spirit, great togetherness, great competitive instincts, and they really deserve their due.

Unfortunately, as we go to Lord’s now, the Kevin Pietersen issue is probably going to dominate the newspapers, the headlines, and Pietersen himself has said something like, “You guys – talking about the media – accuse me of grabbing the headlines, and poor me, why do you always put me in the headlines,” so he’s really behaved like a little brat, hasn’t he? It’s probably going through even if South Africa wins that match, or if they draw and go to number one, it would take some of the shine and some of the spotlight off—you know, if they win it will be a remarkable series victory and something that will be a reward for six years of having long lost series on the road. So I hope that they get their due, you know, if they win.

SJ: How has that attitude toward the South African team changed since that whipping at the Oval? Has there been any marked change in how approached?? You are to South Africa?

FM: Yeah, I think it probably has changed a little bit. They probably have recognized, you know, how good a side South Africa is. It still is very England-centric and England dominated. I’ve found that even the lines of questioning—even when England lost that Oval match—haven’t been, “why did South Africa win?” It’s more, “why did England lose?” But I think things have changed, and I think people can understand that this team is really good. You know, this South African team is probably as good as they’ve had. We can argue about teams from eras past, but as an inclusive team – they’re still not demographically representative but they’re certainly trying to be to some extent, and people are starting to acknowledge that. I don’t know that it will ever become—they’re never going to be an England, they’re never going to be an Australia, they’re never going to be an India. They’re like Jacques Kallis. Actually.  Jacques Kallis, to me, the way that Jacques Kallis is perceived in the media speaks a lot to how they whole South African team is perceived. They’re very good, and they get sort of under-appreciated and not talked about as much. But I don’t really think that bothers them, to be honest, they have to do a job and that’s what they’re doing.

SJ: South Africa could not have gotten off to a worst start to the tour, with Mark Boucher being lost to the terrible eye injury, and Marchant de Lange being ruled out to back issues. But they seem to have bounced back quite well.

FM:  Yes, definitely. Look, the injury to Mark Boucher was horrific—an awful thing to see, an awful way for a very good career to end, and it was really dreadful in that it was going to be Boucher’s last series, and for it to have ended that way is really sad, and it was a horrible thing to see. You know, I also think people knew Boucher was coming to the end of his career—obviously no one wanted it to end that way—but I think they did very well in keeping it together. Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis who are closest to Boucher, have held themselves together well, they held the team together well, and they’ve moved on. And that’s what they needed to do actually—they needed to just move on. It sounds pretty harsh, but I think they did it really well.

Marchant de Lange, you know, he was never going to play unless there was an injury or one of them quit—it’s unfair for him, he’s a young guy, excited to be a part of a tour to England, and unfortunately to have to go home with those back spasms and back injury and that kind of thing. Whether that keeps happening to him will be something Cricket South Africa will need to monitor, because you don’t want a young guy like Marchant de Lange breaking down all the time, and this is not the first time he’s been injured. So, I don’t really think Marchant de Lange’s injury would have had an affect on the squad, but certainly on him as a young player and on the plans moving forward, it will have some kind of impact. And from a replacement point of view, AB de Villiers really has taken that role behind the stumps, and he’s been okay, you know. I still think that South Africa needs a specialist wicket keeper, and Thammy Tsolikele is the man for the job. When he’ll be introduced I don’t really know, but bowling attack, we can see the bowling attack took 20 wickets on an Oval track where England could only manage 2.

SJ: There are a couple of injury concerns going into Lords, with Alviro Petersen’s hamstring, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis’s back, but there are still quite a few days before the third Test starts—so should we be expecting South Africa to play the same eleven that they played at the Oval in Leeds?

FM: Yes, absolutely. Jacques Kallis’s back is not a new issue—he’s had a problem with spasms before and he seems to come back very quickly. The physiotherapist seems to know what to do to get his back the way it should be in as quick a time as possible, so he’ll be fit. Alviro Petersen’s hamstring needs about six more days to come round and we’ve got about ten before that Lord’s Test, so he should be fit as well. Graeme Smith’s knee, it is stressed, but he seems to be coping with it and perhaps if anything further needs to happen it will happen after the Test series, so I would imagine he’d be fit as well. The only thing I can actually see them changing if they’re going to change anything would be bringing in their specialist keeper. In a match that you really can’t lose, I don’t think they’d want to do something like that. I think we’ll see the same eleven—we should see the same eleven—because they’ve performed well in the last two Test matches, and that’s that really.

SJ: So, you are expecting South Africa to be coronated as the number one in Tests again.

FM: Um, no I’m not. England could win at Lord’s and South Africa will have to stay number three and they’ll have to go and try to become number one in Australia. I’m not expecting anything. It’s a good England side, they’ve got eleven good players, perhaps the bowling attack hasn’t been what it should have been—they’re talked up as the best attack in the world and they simply haven’t shown that—but they’re a good side and they’re as good as South Africa, so I think, you know, we’re going to be in for a good match and a good contest. England wants to hold on to number one—they’re not going to say, “Here you go, take the number one ranking.” South Africa wants to be number one, and all they need is a draw, yes, they know that, but they’ve shown us in these last two matches that they don’t just want to draw, they want to try and win. So hopefully they’ll be attacking, they’re going to aggressive, and hopefully England’s going to be attacking and aggressive too, and whoever ends up number one at the end of the series—whether England keeps it or South Africa takes it—will be deserving number one, and that’s what we want as people who enjoy the game. As people who enjoy competitiveness that’s what you want—a team that’s deserving of being number one. Not to say because I’m a South African journalist I want South Africa to be number one. That’s just not the way it works.

SJ: No, I’m not saying you want South Africa to win, number one, I’m saying from your perspective, should we be expecting South Africa to be number one, because they have dominated pretty much all facets of the game for the two Tests, and England has an additional issue to contend with, which is the KP issue.

FM: Look, to be honest, I don’t want to be the person that says, “yes, this is what we expect,” and then that doesn’t happen, because nobody’s got a crystal ball and I don’t really see the point of it actually. I think on the 20th of August we’ll know who the number one team is. And even then, South Africa will go to Australia after that and challenge for number one again if they’re not number one on the 20th of August. I think it’s sort of pointless debating those kinds of issues… I don’t really see what value we could gain from that. I think we’re going to have a good match, and the person who ends up number one will be deserving of number one.

SJ: Fair enough! (Laughs) I have to ask you this—Having been around the teams for three/four weeks now, what’s your take on the whole KP situation?

FM: I have been hearing a lot of spiel from both sides of the story. So, I think that’s a good thing, in the first place, that there are two sides to the story. On the one hand, obviously, there is Pietersen himself who wants to play in the IPL and other T20 leagues around the world. So he doesn’t want to play necessarily all the cricket that England wants him to play. He also wants to play T20 cricket without playing the one-day cricket, and that’s briefly glossing over what his problems are. [Note: KP has since produced a video saying he wants to play all formats for England.]

And then there is the leaking of the confidential meetings that Pietersen had with them, which is also wrong. So, I think they’ve been wrong on both sides of the equation. I think Pietersen has showed himself to be quite a selfish player. He has showed himself to be the kind of person that thinks about [only] him and not the team.

Something Matt Prior said in the press conference couple of days ago stuck with me that, “the most important thing about this England team is that we are a “Team”” and I don’t know whether it has space for someone that doesn’t want to be part of the team, who thinks they are bigger, better and more deserving of concessions than other members of the team. So it will be interesting to see what England do. Will they keep him around because he is a brilliant player, as he showed at Leeds where he turned the match around with his innings and took some wickets? Or do they say, the team is more important? We need the 15 members of the squad committed to be part of our team, all pointing in the same direction, all wanting the same thing? If they want that, then, they have to say to Pietersen “we are going to drop you. Good bye and we won’t offer you another contract.” But if they see his value as a player, then may be he will get the concessions that he needs.

To be honest, I cannot see him [with the team] but perhaps I could be proven wrong in a couple of days. [Note: Firdose was proven right. ECB have decided not to include KP in the squad for the third Test at Lord’s and has been replaced by Johnny Bairstow.]

I cannot see a South African player demanding [such] things because of the philosophy – in the South African change room and among the men that make up the team – is different. I’ll give you an example. Faf du Plessis was due to play for Somerset. Cricket South Africa [CSA] said, “No, you can’t go. We would like you to captain our A team against Sri Lanka A in a few unofficial Test matches.” du Plessis whether he wanted to do that or not, I don’t know, I haven’t asked him, but he ended up captaining South Africa A, knowing that it served his interests well if he wanted to play Test cricket. He scored a 100 in one of the unofficial Test matches and now, he is part of the Test squad. He lost out on a couple of hundred thousands of pounds or whatever the amount may have been, but he did what CSA asked him to do.

I think South African players, in general, will tend to do that. They don’t have the same clashes [as KP] with IPL and South Africa’s home series. So, in terms of having a window to play in a lucrative competition like the IPL, they’ve got that. Obviously, they don’t play in the Big Bash, as it does clash [with South Africa’s home summer]. I think the issues are different across the two countries. One thing that is striking, of course, is that, Kevin Pietersen, when he left South Africa said the politics played a part in his reasons to leave. Surprise, Surprise! There is politics in England, too! I’m interested in seeing whether the politics in England is worse than the politics in South Africa.

SJ: [At the time of recording the podcast] He seemed to indicate that the Lord’s Test would be his last and some English journalists tweeted that he might as well have played his last Test. What have you heard?

FM: Well, that’s what I have heard. That’d be sad, wouldn’t it? For that to happen, it wouldn’t be nice for cricket and also England’s future ambitions going forward. But, for the betterment of the squad, and to tell someone that you have to pull with the team and not be an individual – it’s not an individual sport. It’s not Tennis and you are not a Roger Federer or you are not a Tiger Woods, it’s not Golf etc.. May be the England management would take a stand. I think it must be very difficult being them [England Management] at this stage.

The distraction has been there even before the series started. I think Strauss said something along the lines of “Whenever KP is in the headlines, he tends to come good” and that’s what happened at Leeds. May be, they might think that he might come off again at Lord’s because of all the negative sentiments that’s around him. He seems himself as a victim. [KP]’s bottom lip was almost quivering when he said, “it is tough being me in the England side”, which is laughable. Is it only tough to be him or is it tough because of him, or has he made it tough for himself?

I remember after this [press conference], the South African journalists said to each other, “Thank Goodness, he left! We don’t have to deal with that kind of thing.” So, it is interesting to see how another team works through their issues. We have our own problems in South Africa. We had our bonus scandal for example. There were days when Herschelle Gibbs, in his book, talked about the cliques in the team, with Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis controlling the team, in a damaging kind of way. I think a lot of that has changed.  It certainly has given [me] insights in to how things work in other cricket environments.

SJ: Alright. Changing tack, this is something you have wanted to talk about- Blogging vs Journalism. What is the role of bloggers and blogging, and how is it different from journalists and journalism? From [your] journalistic perspective, what do you see as the benefits and the drawbacks of having the other side, the bloggers?

FM: Look, it’s a tough question because I think the prolific nature of blogging means that asking “what is the role of blogging” becomes a similar question to “what is the role of having a discussion.” It’s an avenue for people to express their views, and I think that’s what is important to remember, that it’s an avenue for people to express their views—it doesn’t necessarily make that a fact. It’s a way for people to spark debates, spark conversation, and I’m sure, certainly, I’ve read, certainly, I’ve heard of blogs where the writing is of a very high quality. Generally it’s no secret that journalism is not going to make you a millionaire, it’s also no secret that a lot of papers are hesitant to hire freelancers—budgets are tight, jobs may be disappearing. We live in a tough economic climate, so for people who, you know, want to write, and if that’s something that they’re interested in, blogs are a good way to do that.

I think lines need to be drawn between the blogging and actual journalism—and I’m not saying they can’t be the same thing, there are certain blogs which will make very fine journalism, certain bloggers which will make very fine journalists, but I think where the difference comes in is that, as a professional journalist, there are certain codes and certain ethics that you have to stick to. Checking your facts would be an example. Certain styles that you write in would be another example. Getting a balanced viewpoint on a story—so not just talking to one source but talking to many. I’m not saying you have to go to journalism school to learn those things, but you certainly have to work in a rigorous environment, journalistic environment, to be able to understand why those things are important, why you can’t simply write Kevin Pietersen’s side of the Kevin Pietersen story, why you’ve got to write both sides of that story.

Of course bloggers aren’t held to those sorts of ethics because, well, I’d imagine a lot of them don’t have editors, they self publish. So they have the room to be creative, they have the freedom to express their own views, and I don’t think very often they’ll have somebody checking—besides the natural checks and balances from people commenting and saying, “oh, well that’s not correct” or “have you thought of it this way.” So I think there is certainly scope for both blogging and journalism, but perhaps when a blogger becomes a journalist they’ll end up using those tools of the trade and the kind of, well, the rules and the guidelines within which journalists have to stick, and I also think the reverse could be true—that journalists shouldn’t be limited or are not limited to write creatively, to find interesting things to write about, to talk about, but they’ll be operating within the confines of the organization that they work for.

Another example would be something like swearing.  I don’t think I could write—I wouldn’t want to—but I don’t think I could write whatever I wanted to in terms of language, use of language, you know, you have to be careful with those types of things, whereas other people are sometimes not held to those same sets of rules and sets of constraints.

I think they can certainly coexist, and I’ve noticed more and more bloggers crossing over and wanting to become journalists, because it’s exciting, you know! Or, It seems to be exciting! You go on a tour, you know, that is really hard work, I’ll tell you that. But you’ll get to watch cricket in different countries, you’ll get to, I suppose, interview different players—perhaps more difficult if you’re not a recognized journalist—that type of thing. It will be interesting to see how that evolves in the next couple of years.

SJ: Fantastic. Alright, on that note I’ll let you go. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Firdose.

FM: Wonderful to be on. Hope we can chat again soon. Bye!

SJ: Cheers, Bye!

[Download the episode here]

Episode transcribed by: Missus Couch