Proteas shackled by political pressure

2015-04-11 00:00

TOO many stories on the same theme have leaked out from those returning from the Cricket World Cup to believe wholeheartedly that the selection of Vernon Philander for the semi-final was not politically inspired.

The clincher for me was the pusillanimous interview of Russell Domingo conducted on television by the otherwise commendable HD Ackerman. This was an opportunity to put some very awkward questions to Domingo about his whole conduct of the World Cup campaign including the wretched selection of an unfit and out of form Philander. So affable was this interview that it was difficult to escape the feeling that both of them had drunk the Kool-aid concocted by their respective masters.

The suspicion remains that lies have been told and I believe the issues at stake are sufficiently serious for a full inquiry to be held by Cricket South Africa. Several of CSA’s officials, including the coach, president and chief executive, have categorically stated that the team in question was chosen solely on merit. Moreover some have even gone on to say that merit is the only criterion for selection to the Proteas which, of course, is as it should be.

We would love this to be true but only the most naive observers might think it so. Ever since the ruling party put pressure on the national cricket body to avoid putting what they called a lily-white team onto the field, the selectors have not been allowed to pick the team based solely on merit. To be sure the rise of players such as Ashwell Prince, Makhaya Ntini, Hashim Amla, JP ­Duminy and Vernon Philander allowed the appearance of merit selection to be maintained while masking the prescription underlying all selections.

The pressure on the selectors to expand the diversity of the national cricket team has been steadily increased to the extent that it is commonly known that the presence of more than seven white players in the team is no longer acceptable to CSA despite its continued insistence in the absence of quotas.

It would be slightly more palatable if CSA’s officials were more open and transparent about this whole matter, and were it not for the dreadful difficulties encountered whenever there is an attempt to write the issues of race classification into some form of legislation or command.

The truth of course is that CSA has been fortunate that thus far it has escaped having to challenge a player who claims to belong to a favoured racial group when in the appalling vernacular of the past he is “not generally accepted as being so”. They have got away with the contrived absurdity that Imran ­Tahir is not to be counted among the number of indigenous South Africans that they require to be in the Proteas team. Their luck, however, may be about to run out.

The fastest growing racist pejorative in this country is the word “dinosaur” which is used to describe a white man of a certain age. The father of Quinton de Kock is a charming and educated middle-aged man who will never suffer the indignity of being called a dinosaur in the context of the new South Africa. This raises the question of why should young De Kock not be allowed to take advantage of this accident of parentage, an advantage that has been freely given to some of his team-mates.

In the very early days of the United Cricket Board of South Africa before it transformed into the clearly disunited CSA, the issue of quotas was raised. Before the debate could begin, Barney Leendertz who had been treasurer of the old Western Province Cricket Board raised his hand. He said that he had not given 35 years of his life to fighting racial discrimination in cricket only for it to be reintroduced now that we have been united in one body.

Barney’s interjection halted any discussion on quotas but the following year his former colleagues saw to it that he lost his place on the UCBSA. The issue of quotas surfaced again, this time with venom and political momentum. One of Barney’s arguments was that no one among us was qualified or should want to judge who did or did not belong to a certain racial group. Sadly Barney Leendertz is no longer with us but his argument is as valid today as it was then. No one on CSA should even think of being so qualified.

With “quotas” about to be further increased among the provinces, a clear message has been sent to gifted white cricketers. “Go north or west, young man. Do not waste your time in a country that has little room for you.” The relatively isolated cases of Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott might well turn into a torrent of talented departures unless CSA begins to comprehend the dangers of its short-sightedness.

The fact remains: the issue of quotas in the national team is not compatible with the Proteas’ stated desire to be the best team in the world. Few genuine cricket supporters in this country would have the slightest objection if the best 11 cricketers were all black but please let us refrain from the falsehood that the best 11 can be chosen under present circumstances.

CSA’s development orchards don’t have branches laden with juicy talent. The best three young black cricketers in the provinces are probably Kagiso Rabada, Temba Bavuma and Omphile Ramala, all of whom are products of well-known private schools in Johannesburg. Ironically, unsurprisingly, the stream of white cricketers produced by these schools has dried up to a trickle of players willing to commit themselves to a cricket career in South Africa.

From top to bottom, cricket in South Africa labours under the yoke of a quota system that stands in the way of a world dominance that is possible given the work done in all our schools, those where the game has been nurtured for over a century and those where it has recently flourished.

It is time for a halt to the madness.

Ray White is a former president of the UCB.

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