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Thread: The case of the missing black Test cricketer

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    The case of the missing black Test cricketer

    There has some gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands in South Africa about the lack of a black Test cricketer (especially by Firdose Moonda of Cricinfo and Telford Vice of the Times in Johannesburg).

    I've written something about why there is no anti-black conspiracy in SA cricket, and why there is a lack of black Test cricketers. I have no idea where to send it to though, so I post it here for your amusement.

    The case of the missing black Test cricketer

    In South Africa there has been much debate around the lack of players of African origin in the national cricket side. Since South Africa’s return to the international fold in 1991 only one player of African origin has been a regular in the Test side, Makhaya Ntini. He served the national side with distinction, playing over 100 Tests and taking nearly 400 wickets. He also has the best match figures by any South African in a Test and is the only South African to take ten wickets in a Test match at Lords. However, apart from Ntini, those of African descent (called black Africans for the purpose of this article) have been a rarity in the national side.

    Only four other black African South Africans have played Test cricket. These are Thami Tsolekile, Mfuneko Ngam, Monde Zondeki, and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Victor Mpitsang, Loots Bosman, Thandi Tshabalala, and Aaron Phangiso have also all played for South Africa in limited-overs cricket.

    Firdose Moonda, ESPN Cricinfo’s South Africa correspondent, writing after the announcement that the former national cricket coach, Gary Kirsten, was not renewing his contract, said that one criticism of his time as national head coach was that he had failed to transform the national cricket side sufficiently, by not fielding a black African in the Test side . She said that this was proof of Kirsten lack of commitment to the transformation, especially ‘Africanisation’ of the national side.

    The Sunday Times also recently said that the country’s Test XI should not call itself the national side until a black African was picked (implying that the 10 million South Africans of Asian, European, or mixed-race descent are somehow not South African).

    Nearly twenty years after the end of apartheid it is indeed a poor state of affairs that only one black African has been a regular in the national side. However, the national side, apart from the lack of black Africans, is relatively representative of South Africa as a whole. In the current Test team Hashim Amla, of Asian descent, is a regular. Alviro Petersen, Vernon Philander, JP Duminy, and Robin Peterson, of coloured, or mixed-race descent, are also all regulars in the current Test side.
    Why is there a relative paucity of black Africans in the Test team? To begin with the number of black Africans playing at franchise level is low, making the available selection pool small. In last season’s Sunfoil Series, the six franchises used 109 players altogether. Of these 109 players only 14 were black Africans, and of these players only nine played in more than half of their franchise’s matches.

    Of the top run scorers in last season’s Sunfoil Series, the only black African in the top 10 was Themba Bavuma, of the Lions, while two black Africans were among the top 10 wicket takers in the competition (Ayabulela Gqamane of the Warriors and Ethy Mbhalathi of the Titans).
    In the current season there have only been four games, with 92 players selected. Of these players 15 are black Africans (already an improvement over the previous season) but once again Themba Bavuma is the only black African amongst the top 10 run scorers. Eddie Leie of the Lions is the only black African among the top ten wicket takers in the series to date.

    It is thus clear that the pool of African players is relatively small to pick from. In addition, the current Test side is, apart from the recent retirement of Jacques Kallis and questions around who should be the first-choice spinner, a settled unit.

    Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Thami Tsolekile are the two black Africans that are probably closest to the national Test side. Tsotsobe plays relatively regularly for South Africa in limited over internationals. However, he probably lacks a yard of pace to be effective at Test level and there have been questions raised about his work ethic and commitment. In addition, he has not played a first-class match in two years, meaning in that he is unlikely to be ready for the rigours of a Test match. Furthermore, the selection of Kyle Abbott in the last Test of the previous summer against Pakistan shows that Tsotsobe is not in the selectors’ thinking at the moment. Other seamers, such as Chris Morris, Beuran Hendricks, and Rory Kleinveldt are probably also above Tsotsobe in the national fast bowling Test pecking order.
    Thami Tsolekile has been unlucky to have not been given a Test match. He is a nationally-contracted player but has not been selected. He is probably technically the best keeper in South Africa and has, in recent years, been in good form with the bat. In the current season he is averaging 121 (although this is boosted by only having been out only once in four innings).Last season his average was somewhat lower, at 30. In previous seasons he has regularly averaged over 50. However, the current form of AB de Villiers behind the stumps also probably means he is unlikely to be given a game soon, especially with a testing series against Australia coming up. Tsolekile is also on the wrong side of 30, making it likely that if and when De Villiers is relieved of his keeping duties he may be overlooked in favour of a younger keeper.
    It is clear that the pool from which selectors can pick is limited. Black African players are not making it to franchise level. However, there is certainly not an agenda in the South African first class game against players who are not white. In last season’s Sunfoil Series 22 players of mixed-race origin turned out, as did seven players of Indian descent. The current season reveals similar figures with 19 coloured players and four Indian players being selected. There is obviously no ‘anti-transformation’ agenda in South African cricket.

    How is it possible that such a small proportion of black Africans (who make up more than 80% of South Africa’s population) have made it to the top of the sport in South Africa? Firstly, apart from parts of the Eastern and Western Cape cricket has never been a popular sport in black African communities. In most of South Africa’s club competitions, black clubs are a relative rarity.

    However, there is no reason to think that this will not change. Cricket in South Africa used to be almost the sole preserve of white English-speaking South Africans and Afrikaner cricketers were uncommon.

    In the final series that South Africa played against Australia before its banishment from Test cricket in 1970, there were only two non-Anglo white South Africans that played. These were the Jewish Ali Bacher and the Egyptian-born Greek, John Traicos. In that series not one Afrikaner played for South Africa (it should be remembered that only whites could be selected for South Africa at the time). Fast forwarding to the 1980s the situation had not changed very much. In the 19 unofficial Test matches that were played in the 1980s by South Africa versus various ‘rebel’ teams, only four Afrikaners were ever picked: Adrian Kuiper, Corrie van Zyl, Allan Donald, and Kepler Wessels.

    However, in the 1990s, there was a veritable explosion in the number of Afrikaners playing cricket for South Africa. Five Afrikaners (Kepler Wessels, Hansie Cronje, Adrian Kuiper, Allan Donald, and Tertius Bosch) played in South Africa’s first Test against the West Indies at the end of the country’s exile in 1991. During the 1990s a number of Afrikaners, such as Fanie de Villiers and Cronje, were fixtures in the side. In the current side three Afrikaners – Morne Morkel, Faf du Plessis, and AB de Villiers – are regulars in the Test side and there are numerous Afrikaners playing franchise cricket and on the fringes of the Test side. In fact, since South Africa returned to the international game in 1991, an Afrikaner has always been in the Test XI.

    Why were Afrikaners a rarity in the game before the 1990s? White Afrikaners were not, in general, interested in cricket and there are probably two reasons why this is so. Cricket is often seen as a quintessentially English game. Tensions between white English-speaking South Africans and Afrikaners were high for much of the 20th century which may have contributed to Afrikaner disdain for the game (ironically Afrikaners embraced another English game, rugby union, with gusto). In addition, South Africa was the Bangladesh of world cricket for the first half of the 20th century. Winning teams are teams that are well supported. Once the country began to become competitive in international cricket (for South Africa this was restricted to games against the ‘white’ Commonwealth of England, Australia, and New Zealand), Afrikaner interest piqued. Afrikaners would have begun attending matches, following games on radio, and in the press, and most importantly begun playing the game and began to encourage their sons to play the game. Instead of passing a rugby ball to his young son in his garden, an Afrikaner father would perhaps begin bowling to him. As Afrikaners began playing the game in the 1950s and 1960s there was an explosion of Afrikaners into the South African game thirty years later.
    This is not a sound scientific explanation but speculation. However, it is unlikely to be far off the mark.

    Perhaps we will begin to see a similar explosion of black Africans into the game as they begin to see the Proteas as a side for all South Africans, and not an extension of white supremacy as the cricketing and rugby-playing Springboks were previously.

    There are already more black Africans plying their trade in the South African first-class game than 20 years ago. In another decade this number will only grow and also create a larger pool of players to select from. In 1991/92, the first season after isolation, only five cricketers who were not white turned out in the first class competition, the Castle Cup, of which only one, Rodney Malamba, was a black African, so it is clear much progress has already been made. Makhaya Ntini is a trailblazer and he will soon be joined by other black Africans in the pantheon of South African cricketing greats. His success has shown young black African cricketers that there is a future for them in the game.

    The transformation of the national South African cricket side from one dominated by white players into one that represents all South Africans is already far advanced, as noted with the relatively large proportion of coloured players in the side. Coloured and Indian players also make up a relatively large minority in the South African first-class game. However, the lack of black Africans is a concern but it is not something that can be changed overnight. In order to do this Cricket South Africa has to ensure that there are cricket facilities in impoverished areas and that cricket as a school sport is not restricted to privileged schools or schools that were formerly reserved for white children.

    However, this is perhaps a uniquely South African neurosis. Possibly no other country in the world has the same obsession with race that South Africa has. However, sport has shown that it can unite South Africans. This has been seen through the great support that the primarily white rugby Springboks have in the country. At the same time, the national football side, which is primarily made up of black Africans, is also all supported by all South Africans, regardless of race. South Africans probably do not care what race their national sportsmen are. As long as they succeed and play with pride and passion all South Africans will support them.

    The quest for the next Makhaya Ntini is important but so is South African cricket success. Black Africans will not play Tests for South Africa in any number until the growing cricketing culture is consolidated and there are cricketing facilities available for those that want to play the game. A truly representative national cricket side is important but success must not be sacrificed on the altar of demographic representivity.

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    International 12th Man SeamUp's Avatar
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    Very good Marius. Couldn't agree more. There are no quick fixes.

    I think you should tweet this link to Firdose Moonda, Telford Vice and even Rob Houwing who did an article on Sport24 .

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    Quote Originally Posted by SeamUp View Post
    Very good Marius. Couldn't agree more. There are no quick fixes.

    I think you should tweet this link to Firdose Moonda, Telford Vice and even Rob Houwing who did an article on Sport24 .
    I'm going to see if I can't get it published in one of the newspapers first.

    I'll probably have to delete this thread if I get that right though.

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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    Who are the next black players who will soon join Ntini in the pantheon of South African cricketing greats then?

    It's all very well saying how Ntini has laid a path for future black players to make an impact, but his retirement was the best part of half a decade ago. The only black player to debut in tests for SA since then was Tsotsobe, and he hasn't made a test appearance for about 3 years either.


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    Quote Originally Posted by sledger View Post
    Who are the next black players who will soon join Ntini in the pantheon of South African cricketing greats then?

    It's all very well saying how Ntini has laid a path for future black players to make an impact, but his retirement was the best part of half a decade ago. The only black player to debut in tests for SA since then was Tsotsobe, and he hasn't made a test appearance for about 3 years either.
    It's just a turn of phrase.

    You're right though, nobody on the horizon really.

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    International 12th Man SeamUp's Avatar
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    Sounds a good idea bud. Good luck with that. It deserves a big audience and perspective from a different less political pleasing angle.

    On the black cricketers issue. I think we need to first produce more black cricketers worthy of playing at the very high standard of franchise cricket in South Africa. Right now I would say Temba Bavuma (Lions bat), Thami Tsolekile (Lions keeper), Eddie Leie (Lions spinner), Lonwabo Tsotsobe (Lions seamer), Mangaliso Mosehle (Titans keeper), Ethy Mbhalati (Titans seamer) , Aaron Phangiso (Lions spinner) and Khaya Zondo (Dolphins bat) can deserve to be in their franchise teams or near it.

    Then they need to be the best in franchise cricket and to be honest you cannot stop a white cricketer from being better than them if it is the case. They need to earn the right to be in the Protea team like any cricketer should do. Why be false about it and pick a player who doesn't deserve to be there. That doesn't make young black cricketers take up the game or improve their own skills. Instead of doing quotas, a continued effort into funding of grassroots level cricket needs to be continued.

    On the younger side, the Warriors contracted a quick called Solo Nqweni from the last u19 CWC so I'm watching his progression. I'm also keenly awaiting the SA u19 squad to be picked on Thursday evening for the world cup. I would say there are about 6 black cricketers in with a chance of being selected on merit in Sibonelo Makhanya, Sine Ntshona, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Ngazibini Sigwili and Lungisani Ngidi. All probably won't make it but it shows you that strides are being made.
    Last edited by SeamUp; 07-01-2014 at 10:18 AM.

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    My 9 year old son has a better chance of being next great black player than all the current black players. If Tsolekile gets into the team next then I'll do a race change.

    Seriously though, there is no infrastructure in black communities for black kids to play the sport. So nobody is taking this transformation seriously, they just want to score political goals. I just dont understand why unions are not putting infrastructure in the townships. Cricket has potential but nobody is willing to put their money where their mouths is.

    Besides all this, I find cricket to be a very expensive sport, for the rich, and people like me just cant afford to buy the equipment and drive the child to games during working hours. If u dont earn enough to have a house wife then forget it.
    Last edited by rza; 07-01-2014 at 10:09 AM.
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    You open your argument by stating: "I've written something about why there is no anti-black conspiracy in SA cricket, and why there is a lack of black Test cricketers."

    I would contend that their is a conspiracy...a conspiracy by silent omission and a prevalence to let the status quo prevail! The whole debate can be summed up for me in the expression: "The truth by omission is still a lie". Its been more than 20 years since we re-entered international cricket...why didn't we as a cricket fraternity not have this discussion sooner instead of it being forced on us?

    Nconde Balfour (Black African ANC minister) was the Sports minister in the early 2000's and it was reported that he was absolutely clueless to the identity of Jacques Kallis famously saying "Jacques who?". This was at the time that JK was inviting comparisons with Sobers and on his way to the SAF cricket hall of fame. What does that tell you?

    Contrary to popular belief, cricket is not popular in this country! Sure, in the streets you'll see children with a bat and tennis ball having fun but that's where the interest for most children ends. Many of the people on this forum board are most probably parents and many of you encourage your children to play cricket. You could most probably tell me how much it costs you to fund your child's sport hobby. You most probably bought the following equipment:

    1 x bat (good kind)
    1 x set of pads
    1 x set of gloves
    1 x ball box
    1 x thigh pad
    1 x arm guard
    1 x helmet
    1 x cricket whites

    You can't just play on any cricket ground so you most probably need to drive your child to and from cricket practice/games. You most probably pay thousands of dollars to fund this hobby.

    All the above is screaming privilege, money, snob! In a country where most people live below the breadline, how do you expect children and parents to fund a cricket career without targeted assistance? Its much easier in this country to play professional football because all you need is a ball, an empty patch of ground and a pair of boots!

    You pointedly mention Thami Tsolekile, Mfuneko Ngam, Monde Zondeki, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Victor Mpitsang, etc but what you don't mention is that they went to some of the top high schools/Colleges in SA...a privileged few sponsored through bursaries - not through CSA - but through the high schools themselves. I can also tell you that when you see these people on television with their posh accents "fa-rah-rah-ing" away, it screams elitism to us on the ground level and further implies a level of exclusion (not that it is true so but perceptions are stronger than truth in a country racially divided).

    You don't have to specifically exclude a race or demographic group from a sport, you just have to provide a lot of bureaucracy and money as obstacles to deter even the most ardent of pursuers.

    So how did we get to this point where quota's are being forced onto the domestic scene?

    Its because for 20 years CSA sat with their finger up their @rse and let the status quo prevail! Its even more sickening when you know that even Rugby (a bastion of white apartheid) is more transformed than cricket! I will be the first to say that I want our team to be a team of merit and I want us to win! But I also have to acknowledge that after 20 years of talking, boardroom politics has gotten us nowhere! Diplomacy is the velvet glove that cloaks the fist of power and its more than apparent that the gloves have been removed because every time that the issue of national demographic representation is put on the CSA table, the more resistance it invokes from the Saffa cricket mafia (not in the literal sense...more metaphorical...although we can't be certain).

    You so aptly point out in your post that cricket is by far the less dominant sport in SA. I would be surprised if more than 2 million people out of a population of 55 million actually follow the sport. Lots of people in this forum comment about cricket attendance and empty stadiums. Its because the majority of the country couldn't be bothered about the sport. SA are like NZ in this regard in that we have a very small percentage of people involved in cricket and yet we are able to punch above our weight in the international arena. If you could take a time out and imagine 55 million people enthusiastic about cricket, we would have a bigger talent pool to choose from and our stadiums would be filled! If we don't get the the 80% back majority supporting or being sympathetic to SA cricket, the sport is going to die in this country! So whats more important...the continued expansion and success of the game, or the racial/quota indignation and resistance?

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    Take a look at where some of the players from the subcontinent have started off and you'll realise just how many have come from extremely poor backgrounds. I agree that the infrastructure needs to be there but the money argument holds much less importance once the interest and infrastructure is in place imo.
    Last edited by Daemon; 07-01-2014 at 10:37 AM.
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    Spanish_Vicente sledger's Avatar
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    Can't set up the infrastructure without money though.

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    First of all i am a black African and live in what we call a township, in the North west province. Im 29 years old and i have personally never faced or experienced naked racism. However the Apartheid structures remain and will take years to dismantle. As a young person i could only play football because it was the only sport available to me because of lack of facilities. Just few Kms away white kids had all tenis courts, cricket pitch rugby pitch you name it and they had it and it was reserved for only whites. The fact that coloured and indians are more represented in cricket circles is not really a coincidence. It mirrors how our society is without a shadow of doubt.

    People talk of Ntini and the like. If those guys were not given bursaries to study at formerly exclusive white schools you and i would never have witnessed them playing for the Proteas. Why is that? The reality of the situation is that an African parent earns way less than white South Africans and the other race groups and has to make serious life or death choices. Faced with a hobby for your child or food to survive what would you chose?

    Clive Rice once said the money tap to black clubs must be closed because their useless and not producing cricketers. Funny enough i doubt clive ever went to a township and understood the dynamics of what it means to be black and poor. With the current system in place for one to become a test cricketer, one has to go to a formely white school and predominantly a very very expensive school. Bishop, Grey and the like are not cheap and average South Africans cant afford it. How can blacks who are at the bottom of the food chain get represented?

    My solution is simple. Ensure that each and every school, black, white, colored and Indian has facilities and that school sports is played religiously. From then on create Academies say in metros that will ensure as much representation as possible. Whites with the no how could be of great help by donating time to teach black coaches the ropes which in time will create black african players. Like the OP said it will take time but that IMO is the way to go. Unfortunately the politicians are now fed up because they realise that CSA does not want to change.

    But even my solution is only a cricket solution it still does not adress 400 years of inequality. But one thing remains, the status qou can't remain.

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    U19 12th Man Rasimione's Avatar
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    First of all i am a black African and live in what we call a township, in the North west province. Im 29 years old and i have personally never faced or experienced naked racism. However the Apartheid structures remain and will take years to dismantle. As a young person i could only play football because it was the only sport available to me because of lack of facilities. Just few Kms away white kids had all tenis courts, cricket pitch rugby pitch you name it and they had it and it was reserved for only whites. The fact that coloured and indians are more represented in cricket circles is not really a coincidence. It mirrors how our society is without a shadow of doubt.

    People talk of Ntini and the like. If those guys were not given bursaries to study at formerly exclusive white schools you and i would never have witnessed them playing for the Proteas. Why is that? The reality of the situation is that an African parent earns way less than white South Africans and the other race groups and has to make serious life or death choices. Faced with a hobby for your child or food to survive what would you chose?

    Clive Rice once said the money tap to black clubs must be closed because their useless and not producing cricketers. Funny enough i doubt clive ever went to a township and understood the dynamics of what it means to be black and poor. With the current system in place for one to become a test cricketer, one has to go to a formely white school and predominantly a very very expensive school. Bishop, Grey and the like are not cheap and average South Africans cant afford it. How can blacks who are at the bottom of the food chain get represented?

    My solution is simple. Ensure that each and every school, black, white, colored and Indian has facilities and that school sports is played religiously. From then on create Academies say in metros that will ensure as much representation as possible. Whites with the no how could be of great help by donating time to teach black coaches the ropes which in time will create black african players. Like the OP said it will take time but that IMO is the way to go. Unfortunately the politicians are now fed up because they realise that CSA does not want to change.

    But even my solution is only a cricket solution it still does not adress 400 years of inequality. But one thing remains, the status qou can't remain....
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    Really interesting thread this one, especially for someone who isn't well informed on the subject.

    Before Rasimione's post I was going to ask if there were any Black African Proteas fans on here, and whether the demographics of South African posters on CW reflect the interest that Black Africans have in the sport. However, based on Rasimione's post it's clear that interest in the sport can develop in the absense of appropriate facilities. That being the case, it isn't a great leap to think that with better quality facilities being available, that interest in the sport would increase substantially.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HeathDavisSpeed View Post
    Really interesting thread this one, especially for someone who isn't well informed on the subject.

    Before Rasimione's post I was going to ask if there were any Black African Proteas fans on here, and whether the demographics of South African posters on CW reflect the interest that Black Africans have in the sport. However, based on Rasimione's post it's clear that interest in the sport can develop in the absense of appropriate facilities. That being the case, it isn't a great leap to think that with better quality facilities being available, that interest in the sport would increase substantially.
    I can assure you that cricket is well loved by All races but the barrier to entry for black africans is no myth. Currently i work at a college and me and a lecturer freind of mine started a cricket team for the students. Some if the challenges are really sad to hear. Because of group areas act most blacks in my community live away from town so if we want to organise extra training it means this kids need money for transport to use facilities in town. Money their parents dont have. Yes i agree that facilities mean nothing and do not translate to grass root participation but then white people had a choice to play whatever sport they wanted because they had countless facilities. atleast let us have the same opportunities to pick and choose. Also Seam Up aluded to guys like Rabada and the upcoming talents. But again all those guys either have rich black parents or their there because of scholarships. This shows that the system of elitism will continue till jesus comes. Sad really. I love cricket very much. No one taught it to me but because i loved it, i taught myself by endlessly watching test cricket on SABC. There are countless people just like me really interested in this sport.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HeathDavisSpeed View Post
    Really interesting thread this one, especially for someone who isn't well informed on the subject.
    Yeah, I agree. Awesome thread.

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