The South African squad to tour India has been announced and, keeping in line with squad announcements during Norman Arendse’s reign, has once again brought controversy to the national set up.
Transformation is part of South African life, be it in politics, business or sport, it is something that we have all come to accept and even acknowledge is necessary. Forced transformation is not fair or just, and South African sport needs to rectify this before they are plunged into the darkness that envoloped Zimbabwean cricket a few years ago.
When the team to tour Bangladesh was named it was twice vetoed by Arendse and there subsequently followed an ugly, heated period in South African cricket as Arendse, Majola and Arthur went to war, much of it in public. Arendse was unhappy with the racial composition of the squad, wanting 6 black players in a 14 man squad and 7 in a 15 man squad. The touring team had only 4 initially, and 5 when Peterson was chosen to replace the injured Harris. The team was eventually released by Majola much to the chagrin of Arendse. Arendse received a fragile vote of confidence after the fiasco and South Africa went on to complete a 2-0 series win.
However it now seems that Arendse has got his way with the naming of the team to tour India. Andre Nel and Johan Botha have been dropped and Charl Langeveld and Robin Peterson recalled. While Botha did not cover himself in glory during the Test series, Peterson completed his first 5 wicket haul to help South Africa win the 2nd Test, and so that inclusion was expected. It is the dropping of Nel that will cause alarm bells for South African cricket. Nel did not feature in the Test series due to fitness and his place went to Morne Morkel. However Nel has been part of the South African Test eleven for the entire season past and would have expected to be in the team traveling to India. Langeveld, while part of the ODI set up for a long time now, has not featured in a Test since South Africa played Australia in 2006. The decision smacks of a white player being dropped for a black player so that racial targets are met. Nel was said to be extremely downcast by the decision, and had to be convinced to play in the 2nd ODI, where he picked up 4 wickets and was named man of the match. His emotion was evident with each wicket he took, proving to the selectors they had erred in the best possible way, on the field. He did not appear at the post match presentation nor did he speak to any media. News coming out of the camp is that Nel is considering retiring from international cricket, and who can blame him? He has been dropped for political convenience and not sporting reasons.
More so then Nel, Langeveld is the biggest loser in this scenario. He was to play Test cricket for his country, his ODI form has been good, and his ability to swing the ball would be an asset in India. Yet he now finds himself a political pawn in a game of appeasement. How does he benefit from this? If he has a bad tour, as many seam bowlers do in India, he will be wrongfully viewed as just a quota player, only chosen because he is black. This is the harm that the quota system brings to black players; they must continuously play with the knowledge that the system will have them viewed as statistics, chosen to meet a target. It is an embarrassment to players like Gibbs, Amla, Prince, Duminy, Ntini and Langeveld who have established themselves in the South African team, and to those looking to do so, like Peterson, Zondeki, Ontong and Tshabalala, that they are viewed this way. They are in the team or in contention on merit, and that should be enough to justify the feeling that transformation is working and can not be forced. Black players do not need the added pressure of having an unjust stigma burdened on them. Given the choice most black players would do away with the quota system at national level, and the administrators should listen to these calls. Ntini will go down as one of the best bowlers to ever play for South Africa when he retires, and not as the best black bowler.
The quota system does more harm then good to the careers of both black and white cricketers. Surely those in power can see that?
(Photo from http://www.cricinfo.com)