Cricket South Africa has stated that racial targets will have to be met for the fast approaching Twenty20 World Cup, which South Africa will host, in September.
What this means is that, just as in the World Cup in the Caribbean, 7 of the 15 members of the World Cup squad will have to be non-white. While the rest of the world may not share the same problem, South African cricket has to take into account the injustices of its countries history and attempts to bring parity to the playing fields, to have a team that represents the people of the country. That is a fact that South Africans have to come to terms with and stop quibbling about. While I have always maintained that quota’s, or targets, should be used at domestic level and not at international level, the reality is that the system is here to stay – for now at least.
What South African, and world fans in general, must not mistake is the quality of the players selected. The non-white players, although meeting targets, are not of a sub standard to their white team mates. Ntini has lead the bowling attack in both limited and test cricket for a number of years now, Prince has been the most consistent Test batsman of the last 2 years, and Hashim Amla’s run scoring at domestic level over the last few years has demanded a place in the test team. Saying that the non white players are in the team based on colour is an insult to them and the system.
The problem arises however in the strict meeting of those targets. By saying that we have to have 7 rather than we would like to have 7 the selectors are harming the game at this level. In the recent World Cup the target was met, with Roger Telemachus being the 7th player. Telemachus is good enough to play at this level, and can do a job for the team, however he did not play a single game at the event. That isn’t the problem, Australia didn’t utilise every member of their squad, as most other teams did, but the problem comes with the players left behind. Johan van der Wath is good enough to make the first eleven never mind the touring 15, yet when he is continuously left behind because he is fighting for 8 places and not 15, he must begin to think of his future. Continuously being overlooked must make Kolpak a very appealing avenue. Morne van Wyk was given a chance on South Africa’s recent tour to Ireland, where he showed he was ready for international cricket. If he subsequently gets over looked after that, not to mention him being the outstanding domestic batsman of recent seasons in all forms, he too will begin to think of a future in England. The flaws in the system mean that if South Africa continue to overlook their talent they will lose them, and the England team in a few years could be all South African.
The signs that the system are working, and don’t need to be rushed, are there. At the recent Emerging players tournament in Australia, which was won by South Africa, Vernon Philander topped both the batting and bowling tables, JP Duminy and Alviro Pieterson featured highly on the batting side, and Yusuf Abdullah on the bowling. So if the talent coming through is a representative mixture of white and non white then surely in a few years the full team will be too, irrespective of targets? There is only danger in rushing through such a sensitive system. The players want to believe that they are the best, and not that they are numbers in a target game. That sort of thinking set back the career of a promising player like Justin Ontong, and although he is beginning to fulfill his undoubted potential, can not be allowed to happen again.
South Africa is in the unenviable position of having to marry sport and politics, a combination that does not go together well. If the country and people are to move forward, if they are to be the best, they must hold on to their pool of talent. Targets should be a goal and not set in stone. The best players will come through the system and targets will be met – they should not be forced.