LANGEVELDT’S Long field of ‘quota’ emptiness

2008-03-29 00:00

SOMETIMES I think that the best thing for the major sports in this country is that they should disintegrate as quickly as possible into situations of total embarrassment. This despairing view is based on the assumption that it will not be until the depths have been plumbed, that someone will be smart enough to call a halt to the desperately ill-sighted practice of fixing predetermined quotas for our national and senior representative teams.

Under the inept stewardship of Norman Arendse, cricket has reached that point of farce when many of us are wondering if we can bear to continue supporting a team that is being used as a political tool to achieve an end that fails to make sense from any perspective. Under normal conditions such a state of affairs would invite intervention from concerned administrators, but one fears that the decline from respectability to humiliation has far to go. One only has to look across the Limpopo to realise just how much embarrassment South African cricket might suffer before a sensible intervention takes place.

Charl Langeveldt’s brave and sensitive decision to withdraw from the national team would, in any other than an abnormal society, have spelt the beginning of the end to both Arendse’s term of office and the wretched presidential veto that he has used to such ill effect. All it would have taken would have been a cascade of similar refusals to be chosen other than on merit, for Arendse to have suffered the humiliation he deserves. In the event, only Langeveldt’s card fell before Zondeki stopped what could have been the rot that would have unseated Arendse and prevented a repetition of the events of an unhappy summer off the field.

Langeveldt, certainly, has won himself many admirers for being the first to stand up and refuse a selection that he felt was not based on merit. It takes courage and honesty to reject something for which you have worked hard to achieve. It would have been easy for Langeveldt to have said to himself that he was the beneficiary of a marginal decision and accepted a place in the current Test squad. There have been many iniquitous selections in the past that were based on nepotism and other nefarious reasons. I cannot recall any of those “surprise” selections turning down the offered bounty.

Langeveldt, however, knew what the score was and realised that he would never be comfortable in an environment in which his team-mates knew what he knew. Others have been placed in the same invidious position and none, that I recall, have prospered until they were certain in their own minds that they had deserved selection.

If anything, Monde Zondeki’s position in the squad is almost worse than any of his quota predecessors. He knows, not only that his selection was based on a racial criterion, but also that there was a strong moral obligation on him to follow the path chosen by Langeveldt. Had he done so there is every likelihood that no player of colour would have been found to take the place that rightfully belonged to Andre Nel. Quotas would have been doomed, not only in cricket, but perhaps in all South African sports.

It will be interesting to watch Zondeki’s future progress. He had a good early summer on the sporty pitches of the SuperSport competition. Sadly, he then suffered a leg injury. When he returned to the Cobras during the one-day season he bowled poorly. Joubert Strydom saw an ordinary performance from Zondeki at the Wanderers, when he looked anything but a Test match bowler.

It is one thing to get an undeserved chance, but to do so when out of form could do some nasty damage to Zondeki’s career. He is in India as a back-up fast bowler but, with three back-to-back Test matches, the chances are that not all the first choice fast bowlers will stay fit. Zondeki could find himself badly exposed, on unfamiliar pitches, against a strong batting line-up. For his and the team’s sake I hope that he performs well if given a game, but the odds are stacked against him on many counts.

Through all this, Arendse has maintained that he had nothing to do with Langeveldt’s original selection. This may be true in that he may not have mentioned names, but the immediate past history suggests that his demand for six players of colour was not negotiable. Under such circumstances the selectors, in the interest of a bit of peace and quiet, took the path of least resistance. In this they were mistaken, as they should have known.

If Arendse was attempting to deflect blame for this fiasco, he will almost certainly fail to do so. Those close to cricket’s corridors of power will know that his presence has hovered over selections all season. He began with the omission of McKenzie from the national squad and followed with the astounding omission of Jaques Kallis from the T20 World Cup. He has been on his quota bent ever since. Far from protecting those under his guardianship, he has pursued a transformation agenda with one eye always on his masters in the parliamentary sports committee. Even they, if the deputy chairman of that committee has been accurately reported, have begun to turn against him.

If Langeveldt is to be rewarded for his action of conscience, it will come in the form of an early demise for Arendse and his disruptive insistence on the meeting of the targets of transformation. He has brought disharmony and embarrassment to South African cricket. In the scheme of things in this tortured country, however, the chances are that he will survive long enough to inflict his policies for at least another year. Charl’s reward will have to wait.

It is incumbent on me to declare an interest in this matter. Never has it been so easy to write a weekly column, with all the material supplied by Stormin’ Norman. I hope he stays in office.

• Ray White is a former UCB president.

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