Last week was dominated by the controversy surrounding an alleged SMS sent to Cricket South Africa (CSA) by the Department of Sport and Recreation (SRSA) demanding Vernon Philander play ahead of Kyle Abbott in the Cricket World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. CSA denies there was an SMS and so does SRSA but Telford Vice, who broke the story, is someone I have immense respect for and when he smells a rat, you had best reach for the poisoning. I have known and worked with Vice for several years and am confident that his story is accurate. The saying ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ springs to mind and it had me wondering if the perception that white players are afforded more time to prove themselves in the national side than their black counterparts can be backed up with statistical evidence.
Jacques Kallis struggled for two years before he hit his first Test hundred and AB De Villiers averaged 27 for two years before coming right. Hashim Amla made his debut and was dropped for the very next match before coming back for two Tests. Amla then spent some 15 months in the international wilderness. By reading that you could come away thinking Amla was not persisted with because he is a non-white player. You could say all three eventually made it anyway. You may even think it proves black players are not afforded a fair shake. Maybe you’ll point out that the Kallis scenario was two decades ago and the AB-Amla example is from ten years ago and we have moved on from there plus the side was not a settled one at those times.
A recent example from the One Day arena lends credence to the claim. Rilee Rossouw and Mthokozisi Shezi made their debuts in the same ODI against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in August 2014. Shezi was solid if not spectacular in taking 1/8 in six overs while Rossouw was out for a duck. Rossouw played five more ODI’s for his country accruing three further scores of zero. The Knights batsmen was persisted with and ended up going to the World Cup while Shezi has not played again.
Rossouw’s showing in national colours has of course justified the selectors’ faith in him but you have to wonder if four ducks in six outings is worthy of being persisted with, then how on earth can 1/8 in six overs, in what is very much a batsman’s game, be worthy of being ignored? Was Shezi out with a long-term injury? Not really, because he played about 80% of his franchise, the Cape Cobras’ domestic matches this past summer.
The quota on the domestic front is set to be increased but the problem in my view is that the symptom is not being treated. A truly representative South African XI would feature at least seven black players but you are never going to get there if the domestic franchises are not doing this, and they are never going to achieve that if their player pools are not fulfilling this. The truth is that if the sport was truly accessible to all and if everyone had an equal opportunity then 79% of your cricketers would be black anyway.
Yes, what I am saying is somewhat utopian but 24 years after unification we should not even have to be having this conversation. To this extent I blame the game’s administrators; many of whom you will find are actually black. Why are the black administrators not doing more to promote the communities from whence they hail? Or is it too easy to simply sit back and let nature run its course, as it were? Or even worse, are they nothing but puppets to their white and/or commercial masters?
Something has to give because the status quo (or quota) is not sustainable and while there has been progress, it has been awfully slow. I hear you arguing that the black players will compromise the quality of the Proteas as an international force. May I point out the national cricket team’s quality is already compromised because we are only selecting our XI from about 33% (I generously estimate) of our population. In theory we could be three times stronger. Imagine if Rilee Rossouw, as good as he is, was barely holding down his place at the Knights? That is how powerful we could actually be.