Ignore foolish demand for demographic representivity in cricket
Published:2012/05/10 09:20:14 AM
WHEN Jack Cheetham was about to lead the South African cricket team to Australia in 1951 there was some discussion about the fact that the Queen always turned out to greet visiting sides at Lords and it would accordingly be nice if the prime minister, Dr DF Malan, gave the team a South African send-off.
Malan graciously agreed and the team traipsed off to Groote Schuur for tea. Everything went well until just before the end when Malan turned to the team and said he really hoped they’d enjoyed visiting SA. The whole team was English-speaking and Malan had imagined they were an English touring side.
Not many years later, when HF Verwoerd was in power, one of his ministers mentioned that things had reached a very tense stage in a SA v England Test. "Yes, but who’s doing best", he replied, "our English or their English?"
The point of both stories being that at that time cricket was very much the game of white English-speakers: for apartheid reasons men such as Basil d’Oliveira were excluded and Afrikaners were a rarity in the game.
This is very much to the point in thinking about the situation today — and it is why both the new boss of South African cricket, Willie Basson, and your esteemed columnist, Telford Vice, are wrong just to say that cricket must represent national demographics and thus its future must be black.
Instead, it must represent the demographics of those who play the game. There is, after all, no "ought" about this. One can’t tell black South Africans that they "ought" to play cricket or hockey instead of soccer so that our hockey or cricket team looks more representative. People choose their own sports and they have every right to do so. Almost every Russian world chess champion has been Jewish and even when the Russians lost it was to Bobby Fischer, another Jew — but no one thinks that this failure to mirror world demography lessens the prestige of the world champions.
Similarly, the West African diaspora wins all the sprints in athletics and East Africans win most of the rest: a white face is a rarity now in such events — but that in no way undermines the winners’ achievements. This is just the way it is. If you don’t like it, get over it.
To get back to cricket. The key to understanding its sociology is that just as our national team was thrown open to all races, the cricketers of colour who were up for selection found themselves competing with exceptionally talented Afrikaners. Their movement into cricket had already been visible in the isolation years — think of Kepler Wessels, Adrian Kuiper, Garth le Roux and Corrie van Zyl — but re-entry coincided with the arrival of such giants of the game as Allan Donald, Jacques Kallis, Hansie Cronje and Fanie de Villiers.
Since then this movement has grown further. How about the following all-Afrikaans team today: Jacques Rudolph, Morne van Wyk, AB de Villiers, Kallis, Faf du Plessis, Heino Kuhn, Albie Morkel, Johan Botha, Dale Steyn, Marchant de Lange, Morne Morkel, Juan (Rusty) Theron (12th man).
I think that unit — let’s call it the De La Rey XI — could whip almost any Test team in the world.
If we were to put that team up against another South African XI, the guts of the team would be coloured: JP Duminy, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince, Robin Peterson, Farhaan Behardien, Justin Ontong — to which one could add two Asians (Imran Tahir and Hashim Amla) and an African (Lonwabo Tsotsobe). That too would be an extremely formidable team, we’ll call it the Basil d’Oliveira XI.
And neither one has a single white English-speaker in it. In fact, if you look at our normal Test team you realise that Grae me Smith is the last of what used to be the completely dominant anglo group making up our team. But we couldn’t put a decent team in the field made up from that group now — we could add Mark Boucher, David Miller, Colin Ingram and Richard Levi, but that’s it.
One of the reasons, of course, is that so many who might be in that team — Andrew Strauss, Matthew Prior, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Craig Kieswetter, Jade Dernbach — are now wearing England colours while other South Africans are cropping up in many international teams. If we could put that lot together — the Sout ie XI — it would also make a fine team. There was a time when South African teams used Afrikaans as a sort of secret language on the pitch. Today, too many of the opposition can understand it for that to be safe.
If I had to bet on the future, I wouldn’t imagine it to be black. Whites may be shrinking as a group but there are still far more of them than, say, New Zealanders, who can put out a fair team. But there are now more coloureds than whites and clearly they are going to provide more and more of our cricketers (and rugby players). Cricket talent is a mixture of spontaneous schoolboy enthusiasm and cricket schools.
Based on that, the group I would expect to produce more and more Proteas would be Asians: they love cricket and increasingly attend good cricket schools. And they are prominent in cricket teams all over, not just in the sub-continent but in Canada, Kenya and, increasingly, in England. Of course, it would be marvellous if we had lots of good African cricketers coming through too but my guess is that it will take time, just as it did for white Afrikaners.
In the meantime we should ignore the foolish demand for demographic representivity. The whole country supports the Proteas because it knows they are picked on merit. No group feels its players are excluded from selection. Our team is already racially mixed; is becoming more so; and is possibly the best in the world. That’s already a lot to be proud of.