Race and cricket in SA

The head­line ‘Every­body doubts play­ers of colour’ caught Vic­tor Dlamini’s at­ten­tion

CityPress - - Sport -

Ihad to rub my eyes, and rub them again as I read this story. How can it be pos­si­ble for any South African sport to still get away with race­based ap­proaches to ex­cel­lence? But here it was, this lit­tle story, demon­strat­ing to us that the old South Africa was still very much alive in sport. Like many im­por­tant sto­ries that of­ten es­cape greater scru­tiny, this story about Hashim Amla was tucked away in the sports sec­tion, when it should have been the lead story.

Hash’s down­fall as the cap­tain should also have gen­er­ated greater heated de­bate, even out­rage, given that it was pre­ceded by calls for his res­ig­na­tion.

I say down­fall de­lib­er­ately be­cause even though this news was pre­sented as a “res­ig­na­tion”, it felt more like Amla was hounded out of his job. And therein lies the rub – Amla isn’t just the first black cap­tain of the South African cricket side; he’s also one of the world’s great­est play­ers. His achieve­ments rank him along­side the greats in any sport.

And be­fore the calls for Amla to re­nounce his cap­taincy had died down, there he was at New­lands an­nounc­ing that he was in fact step­ping down as cap­tain of the team. As usual of Amla, this mo­ment was dressed in his trade­mark hu­mil­ity. But there was no deny­ing that this was a deeply sym­bolic mo­ment for the South African na­tional cricket team.

Surely such a ca­pa­ble, ded­i­cated player, who has been at the helm for 18 months, should not fall as cap­tain un­der such un­con­vinc­ing cir­cum­stances.

And to think that Amla was forced to give up his cap­taincy of the test team in the year that South Africa will be cel­e­brat­ing 20 years since Bafana Bafana won the Africa Na­tions Cup. It tells you some­thing about the ter­ri­ble pace of trans­for­ma­tion in sports such as cricket that the race of the cap­tain is still an is­sue when Bafana Bafana was cap­tained by Neil Tovey 20 years ago.

There was Tovey, in charge and ad­mired for his skills and lead­er­ship, with no one rais­ing an is­sue about his race dur­ing his cap­taincy. But cricket, and its sis­ter sport rugby, seem locked in the apartheid mind-set that says only white play­ers are good enough to be long-term cap­tains of these sports.

For cricket, it seemed to be busi­ness as usual, as Amla knocked him­self off the cap­taincy af­ter his dou­ble-cen­tury knock at the famed New­lands. It was as if he chose that mo­ment to em­pha­sise the ridicu­lous claims of his de­trac­tors that he was past his prime.

For those who be­lieve that the num­bers should do the talk­ing, Amla’s are sparkling. In 90 tests, he has scored 7 108 runs. That’s well over half a cen­tury as an av­er­age. On top of that, he scored two-dozen cen­turies and still holds the South African record of 311 not out.

More should be made of coach Rus­sell Domingo’s un­hap­pi­ness with the crit­i­cism of Amla.

“I hon­estly feel that a lot of what Hashim has faced over the last cou­ple of weeks has been very harsh,” said Domingo.

But his words did not stop Amla’s pre­ma­ture exit as cap­tain.

What re­ally should have trou­bled all those who rushed to praise his “self­less­ness” were Amla’s com­ments that play­ers who were not white faced doubt all round: “Every­body doubts you for var­i­ous rea­sons.”

Amla added, per­haps pro­saically: “We both have very sim­i­lar ca­reers – the first time we do play in­ter­na­tional cricket, ev­ery­one doubts you. Maybe be­cause of the colour of your skin, even though you’ve got the stats to back it up do­mes­ti­cally. Every­body doubts you for var­i­ous rea­sons.”

He was, of course, re­fer­ring to the cen­tury that was scored by young­ster Temba Bavuma at the same New­lands ground. Un­sur­pris­ingly in South African cricket, there had also been calls for the very same Bavuma to be dropped from the na­tional team be­cause he wasn’t good enough. But now here were the 16 000 fans at New­lands rel­ish­ing his per­for­mance, hap­pily for­get­ting how his prospects had been con­sid­ered hope­less just a few days ear­lier. Per­haps the most painful part of the piece I read was this: “Bavuma was the man in the spot­light – as black play­ers al­ways are in South African sport – and he needed to de­liver an in­nings of sub­stance if he was go­ing to be part of the fu­ture at the Proteas.”

It shouldn’t still be pos­si­ble for race to weigh so heav­ily on the suc­cess or fail­ure of those who choose to fol­low a ca­reer in sport in South Africa.

But that’s where we are – as proven dur­ing the re­cent rugby World Cup, in which the coach con­sid­ered most of the black play­ers per­ma­nent bench­warm­ers. Even in those matches that were clearly of no con­se­quence, he stuck to his race-based for­mula.

It shouldn’t have to take hero­ics from the likes of Bavuma or Amla for black play­ers to feel wel­come in the team. More im­por­tantly, it is the lead­er­ship roles in the team that speak loud­est to who the team be­longs to.

If the South African cricket team could put up with a decade of Graeme Smith as cap­tain, even when he was truly hap­less, surely it should have given Amla even half that. Other­wise the racism ge­nie will al­ways haunt South African cricket.

And it will re­duce phe­nom­e­nal tal­ents like Amla and Bavuma to “trans­for­ma­tion am­bas­sadors”, al­low­ing au­di­ences like those at New­lands to in­dulge in oc­ca­sional rain­bow na­tion-build­ing.

Cricket can­not hide be­hind quaint no­tions like trans­for­ma­tion when it does not make the very best use of those with the phe­nom­e­nal tal­ent of Amla.

Cricket SA can’t wait for an­other cen­tury to grasp that sidelin­ing black play­ers dooms it to per­ma­nent cri­sis.

Dlamini is a writer and com­men­ta­tor

Vic­tor Dlamini

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