If the conjecture around the racial make-up of the men currently tasked with guiding the Proteas’ fortunes – and Temba Bavuma’s non-selection for the ongoing test against England – has taught us anything, it is that we are in danger of creating a narrative above performance in our teams.
To briefly recap, former Proteas captain Graeme Smith’s appointment as director of cricket at Cricket SA has ushered in the return of his former team-mates Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis (among others) in the capacity of head coach and batting consultant, respectively. This is something that has rubbed the black cricket loving public up the wrong way.
Forget that the two are Smith’s friends from their playing days – or indeed the fact that they were once accused of forming a clique that ran the Proteas’ dressing room as players – the social media charge sheet seems to centre on the idea that they have conspired to whiten up the horizon in a team that has blackened up significantly over the past few years.
The fit again Bavuma’s omission from the current test in Cape Town has been taken as a case in point for those who see the regime under Smith as precipitating some kind of purge of black players from the Proteas team.
The argument in favour of South Africa’s first and only black African centurion going straight back into the team in place of Rassie van der Dussen, who scored a half century on debut last week, is based on the policy that an incumbent shouldn’t lose his place due to injury.
As noble as whomever came up with that principle thought he was being – and the AB de Villierses of this world have benefited from it – it has very little to do with actual performance.
Bavuma was clinging on by a thread to his place in the team, having returned a top score of 38 for an average of 16 in the three-test series against India, with such batting luminaries as Senuran Muthusamy and Keshav Maharaj above him on the run-scoring charts.
While he wouldn’t have turned down a last chance to put runs on the board to cement his tenuous hold on his place in the team, Bavuma’s utterances – that he understood that his position in the side was parlous because he was failing to accrue his main currency (runs) – in India suggest he won’t be feeling sorry for himself.
The interesting thing in all of this is that, before the first test against England last week, the Proteas lost five tests last year.
Yet the moment they won one game, many felt like it was time to experiment with the starting line-up by including an out-of-form batsman who was injured just last week.
Elite performance at the business end of international sport is usually accompanied by a ruthlessness of thought. If that kind of thinking doesn’t work for us as a country, we should be happy for our results to be hit and miss.
Also, one isn’t sure what Smith – who seemed to be a universal choice for director of cricket – was supposed to do once he was hired.
Approached by an organisation in crisis, Smith negotiated from such a position of strength that he was always going to bring in people he trusted, even if one was the country’s most irascible former wicketkeeper and the other a former batsman who didn’t much care for singing the national anthem.
That said, this shouldn’t be taken to mean the concerns about cricket – a sporting code in which merit has always had a colour and has for generations done a fine line in exclusion – are invalid.
But instead of targeting Smith and Co, or Van der Dussen and Pieter Malan, maybe the grievances should be directed at an organisation that has soiled the bed administratively, and failed to implement succession planning to the point where Bavuma is still the only black centurion the country has so far produced.
Maybe we should learn from Rassie Erasmus making rugby the only currency en route to the Springboks winning the World Cup last year as the solution to a better-performing Proteas team.
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