Is South Africa cricket committing suicide? Will South Africa become another West Indies? Is South African cricket on self-destruct mode? The above questions pertain to step taken by Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) policy of having six coloured players in playing eleven on average (two must be black Africans), which in short means only five white players in the team.
South Africa is currently touring England and Wales and has lost everything on the tour so far. They have lost ODI and T20 series to hosts and were knocked out in the group stages of the ICC Champions Trophy, despite being ranked No 1 in that format. The decision to introduce quota was taken last year to provide opportunities to coloured players, who have been neglected over the years. The situation is very grave and has already seen likes of Kyle Abbott, Dane Vilas, Stiaan Van Zyl, Simon Harmer, David Wiese, Rillie Rossouw, Rory Kleinveldt, Hardus Viljoen, Richard Levi, Colin Ingram (all white apart from Klienveldt) leave South African shores and become Kolpak and are currently playing county cricket in England.
The mass exodus of white players raises an important point about why CSA is having so called transformation (quota) in first place. The team has been weakened by this and so many talented white players have left country looking for better opportunities. Over the years likes of Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss, Matt Prior, Jonathan Trott, Craig Kieswetter and now former South African coach Ray Jennings’s son Keaton Jennings is playing for England instead of country of their birth.
South Africa, after the apartheid (where they didn’t play any international cricket from 1969 to 1991) have excelled over the past 25 years since readmission. They have always been there and thereabouts in terms of rankings and have been very strong as a cricket team. During the ICC World Cup, 2015 in the semi-final against New Zealand at Auckland, a half-fit Vernon Philander was picked ahead of in-form Kyle Abbott and it cost South Africa the match and created quite an uproar. This topic was mentioned by then captain AB de Villiers in his autobiography (AB: The Autobiography) and he had said that it wasn’t his decision, but hierarchy in CSA forced him to play a less than 100% fit Philander.
The like of Kagiso Rabada’s place is not in question. The young black African has taken the cricketing world by storm and is rightfully being touted as next South African great and he is playing on merit and not by because of the colour of his skin. The problem arises, when you have players like Temba Bavuma (averaging just over 32 after 21 matches) playing ahead of talented, but white Rilee Rossouw, and Jean-Paul Duminys keep on getting chances despite being not up to the mark and only plays to meet transformation targets. Kyle Abbott had everything going for him. He was in top form, bowling beautifully and picking up truckload of wickets, but decided to become Kolpak to secure his future and look after himself and who can fault him for that. In the past there was an unwritten rule about quotas in team, but now it is out in the open and it is affecting cricket in the region.
The irony is that in current Test match at Trent Bridge against England, South Africa have only four players of colour (Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander) in the team. Kagiso Rabada (out due to suspension) and JP Duminy (dropped due to being woefully out of form) and now questions will be raised over meeting the transformation targets. The game of cricket relies upon each individual pulling his weight and contributing to the team. What was the fault of Abbott, Rossouw, Harmer and so many talented white players that despite being talented they had to face discrimination, just because they couldn’t make the criteria of transformation?
The world of cricket needs a strong, stable and competitive South African team and they can’t follow the path of West Indies, Zimbabwe, Kenya and other teams that disintegrated because of politics and interference by the hierarchy. South Africa has always accommodated every player of every ethnicity and race (Makhaya Ntini, Ashwell Prince, and Herschelle Gibbs) based on talent and form. The mass exodus of white players is unfortunate, but you can’t fault them because there are only five slots in the playing eleven and the six other slots are reserved.
The Proteas players have to take a stand and tell authorities that this draconian and unjust rule of transformation has to stop and cricket in South Africa will die a slow and painful death. If nothing happens in the near future, we will see many Abbott’s leaving their own country and playing somewhere else. Hope better sense prevails and South Africa plays as one team irrespective of colour of their skin.
(The views expressed by the writer are personal)