The time for quotas is over

2008-10-17 00:00

Those with an eye for these things will have noticed that of the nine centuries scored in the first two rounds of the SuperSport series, eight were made by players of colour.

At the same time as all these runs were scored, the Free State team contrived to be bowled out for just 28 runs, with two black cricketers taking all nine wickets that fell to the bowlers.

Whatever one may make of these statistics, there is no denying their real message, which is that black cricketers are playing an increasingly important role in South African cricket. This is the development that many have longed for ever since the unification of cricket back in 1992.

Its importance should not be underestimated in the context of South Africa’s ambition to be a regular member of the top three teams in the world. Playing with less than a quarter of the population never really cut it for South Africa other than a brief spell when we had half a dozen of the world’s top 10 cricketers playing together in the same team.

What I have enjoyed about these recent performances of players of colour is that all of them have had to battle for the success that they are now enjoying. Some may have enjoyed an initial leg up from the policies of affirmative action, but it is to their credit that they have not been content to settle for mediocrity but have worked hard to improve their cricket.

The result is that some, if not all, of them have deservedly moved into contention for the national team. Nothing could be healthier for the national set-up than to have a growing stable of contenders who all understand that excellence and consistency of performance are the only sure ways to ultimate success.

South Africa’s cricket cup would run over with joy if the rise of a generation of fine black cricketers was matched with a similar surge of achievement from their white countrymen. Sadly, this has not been happening. If CSA’s new administration is serious about its desire to improve all aspects of the game under its control, its first task should be to find out where all the white talent has gone and do something about it.

It is disturbing that the traditional cricket schools in South Africa have come up with so few national players since unification. What has happened to the flow of talent from those Cape schools that kept Western Province so strong for so long? The nursery of talent in Natal’s great schools was the envy of all other provinces. Now there seems to be an avenue of opportunity leading from DHS to Kingsmead but roads to nowhere from the other schools that once fed Natal cricket.

What has happened to that rich seam of fast bowlers that was mined without interruption from the days of Neil Adcock to Allan Donald? Are they, like white wing threequarters, on the point of becoming an endangered species?

The answer to this trickle of white talent where there once was a steady stream is not to be found in any one cause. Emigration has clearly played a part. The spreading threads of professional cricket have reduced the significance of the universities in the fabric of South African cricket. There is no room for bright young cricketers to study for careers and simultaneously pursue the option of becoming professional cricketers. CSA has done nothing to accommodate the ambitions of undergraduates.

The most important problem facing young white cricketers is the discrimination they come up against from the moment their talent pushes them into contention for provincial honours. I shudder to think how many young cricketers we have lost since the 50/50 quotas have been introduced for the selection of school provincial teams. Many boys have drifted to other sports and others have chosen the Kevin Pietersen option for the fulfillment of their dreams.

Even after school, the opportunities for young cricketers of any colour are limited. There are only six professional teams. Each team contains a handful of experienced stalwarts and slightly less than a handful of quota selections. This means that pitifully few places are available for emerging players. Even the gifted Jonathan Vandiar was not offered a contract by KZN, who appear to be somewhat accident prone in such matters.

Two things need to be done by the new administration. First, the number of professional teams must be increased to eight. The marriages that formed the Warriors (Eastern Cape) and the Eagles (largely Free State) have never been harmonious and are now ripe for divorce.

South African cricket can afford eight teams if its finances are properly managed. The corollary is that it cannot afford to deny opportunities to emerging cricketers if it wants to retain its best talent. This move would increase the number of places in the Supersport series by 22, which would make a difference to those contemplating a career in the game.

Second, CSA needs to take heart from the progress made by cricketers of colour and throw the game open to everyone. It is doubtful that quotas were ever needed but there is surely no case for their retention. Their removal would eliminate a source of frustration for all young white cricketers who would be encouraged to stay in the game if they knew that the playing fields were level for all cricketers.

It often takes courage to do the right thing but when the downside risks are limited and the upside is so rich in potential it hardly takes wise men to recognise that the moment has arrived.

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