Dear Black Person: The Black Cricketer Can't Do It Without You

2015-12-12 14:15

In an age where rising to the top as a black cricketer is riddled with “quota” remarks, staying there has never been harder. Without added support, black cricketers struggle to crack it; even provincial cricket seems to be an insurmountable task.

More often than not, black cricketers have to negotiate a multitude of challenges to reach their full potential. The greatest of these obstacles is the school vs sport dilemma. Even though this quandary is commonplace across all races, black tax makes it all the more prominent if you are rich in melanin. This means that, unlike their white counterparts, black cricketers cannot afford to swap class for a net session. Even after graduation, black graduates cannot afford a house and a car in the first few years of work. The two-roomed family home needs extension, siblings need to go to university, and the NSFAS debt requires clearing. An academic emphasis is, thus, non-negotiable. Quite clearly, this is one of the attributions for the huge deficit between those who join the sport and those who stay in it. Add to this the extra pressure of having to prove yourself because you are THE black guy. A lucrative professional career consequently seems out of reach.

When deciding to take up a sport, I take it for granted that few factors are considered, compared to factors affecting someone who wants to stay in a sport. One’s talent may, at first, be the only factor under consideration. Later on, however, socio-economic, academic, and political factors come into play. It goes without saying that football (or soccer) is a fairly affordable option. This may explain why it is such an attractive choice for those from impoverished backgrounds. Now, take a sport like cricket and the reality wears a different face. Few South African townships have suitable facilities, let alone equipment for aspirant cricketers. A young cricketer would be lucky to be part of a club with sufficient resources. Otherwise, a massive spending is to follow.

Do the following names ring any bells? Ntini, Zondeki, Ngam, Tsolekile, Tsotsobe, Bavuma, Rabada. These 7 are the only black Africans to represent the Proteas in test matches. Look at the list again. Notice something strange? 25 year old Temba Bavuma is the only specialist batsman on the list. The rest are bowlers (bar Tsolekile, who is a wicketkeeper). Simplistically, a bowler only needs a pair of spikes to play the sport. A batsman would need an assortment of resources. Here is a breakdown of costs from a reputable sport store:

Cricket bat: R900-R9000

Helmet: R380-R800

Leg guards: R300-R1140

Thigh guard: ~R200

Gloves: R150-R830

Ball Box: R40-R260

Arm guard: ~R250

Attire (shirt and trousers): ~R300

Spikes (boots): R650-R2000

Bag: R650-R1860

In essence, a batsman at provincial level could easily spend upwards of R3000 on equipment. Without some semblance to financial backing, young batsmen soon fall out of the game.

In order to stand a fair chance, the black cricketer needs a multitude of support structures:

Equipment and facilities

The Department of Sport, Arts, Culture, and Recreation and others (like the Sports Trust) have been active in equipping townships and rural areas with the requisite equipment and facilities. Although adequacy and suitability are still major issues, there is definitely an improvement. It’s a pity some of these facilities fall prey to vandals.

Strong alumni groups at township schools

It is no accident that schools like Afrikaans Boys’ High School (Affies), Grey College, Maritzburg College, and Wynberg High School have been some of the most active contributors of players to the Springboks and the Proteas. Yes, there may have been an unfair startup, but their alumni continue to play active roles in advancing their alma maters. Whether it's through direct investment or funding individual students through scholarships, they stay true to their roles.

Quality coaching

It's a good thing that Cricket South Africa is playing its part in educating coaches all over SA. The knowledge is then imparted to the players. However, in order to develop technically sound players, one-on-one sessions are a necessity. This cannot be realised until the shortage of coaches is addressed. A best case ratio in a typical township, in my experience, would be 1 coach for every 20 players. Unfortunately, black cricketers are seldom fortunate enough to have parents with a history of playing the sport. So, quality-based net sessions are a rarity. The coach-player ratio is improving at a snail's pace, largely due to the meagre payment coaches receive. As a result, few of these coaches can afford to take up coaching full time.

Stop discouraging black cricketers

In many a township, a black cricketer will be told that he is trying to be white if he takes up such a sport. “O itira lekgowa” is a common utterance. The same detractors are quick to praise Ntini but spike the road for those who want to follow him. The road less travelled should be more encouraged.

Parental support

The role of a parent in the success of a sportsman cannot be emphasised enough. As a young, aspiring sportsman with an ounce of talent and pounds of potential to boot, support gives the extra push to make the big league. Even if you cannot afford a Kookabura bat, moral support is reasonably priced. A pat on the back or a “better luck next time” would suffice. The nature of a working-class black parent rarely allows for the attendance of the odd match, but such a gesture will go a long way, even if it occurs twice a year.

Black businessmen

Stand up and be counted. Gone are the days when black businessmen would fork out money from their pockets to back a local team. Now it's all about expansion with no social responsibility. Buy a kit and a few bats. Something! Anything!

. The more blacks thrive in the provincial and franchise systems, the more blacks you will see playing for the Proteas. Support the black cricketer so we can see just as many straight drives as we see inswingers. Start by supporting Bavuma and Rabada when the Proteas host England in the Boxing Day test match in Durban, whether they make the playing XI or not.

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