Cape Town – It being a rare occurrence for all six domestic
franchises to feature on the same bill in a single day, Cricket South Africa
had a simultaneous opportunity at Newlands on Sunday to showcase to a
reasonably big audience its freshly urgent commitment to bringing black African
players to the forefront.
Instead the unseasonally gloomy weather for the three-match
opening day of the Ram Slam T20 Challenge, part of the presumably once-off
Festival of Cricket, somehow seemed apt with regard to that objective: if
anything, we were only served a reminder that the process remains slow,
complicated, controversial, delicate and pretty painful.
It was impossible to escape an impression that too many of
the players fielded, in terms of CSA’s pre-season insistence on a minimum of
one black African cricketer being included in every franchise team, were
largely peripheral presences.
This raises a two-edged argument: are they not properly
being embraced or entrusted with real responsibility in sides, or are several of
them frankly not genuinely good enough yet to warrant their obligatory
first-team statuses – particularly at times when international stars are also
available for selection?
Sadly it is one of those “how long is a piece of string?”
type of quandaries, by my book, with the answer lying somewhere in between and
a solution to the long-time problem thus still proving elusive.
Just to recap: particularly mindful of the great void left
by the disappearance into the first-class sunset of admirable Proteas poster
figure Makhaya Ntini, a fast bowler of indisputable world class over many
years, CSA agreed after a transformation summit before the current season that
a black African “quota” (an unpalatable term to many, but in reality exactly
that) be enforced.
Franchises would henceforth field at least one player from
that population group, with remuneration incentives also on offer to those
putting out more than one in 70 percent of their games.
Sunday started in most promising fashion as an advertisement
for the formula, with 23-year-old Khaya Zondo of the Dolphins – alas, with the
majority of the crowd not yet in – aiding Vaughn van Jaarsveld in an ultimately
decisive turnaround of the Durban-based team’s innings, from a ropey 37 for
four to 154 for four.
Their record-breaking fifth-wicket alliance produced 117
unbeaten runs at a healthy, counter-punching rate of knots and Zondo
contributed a cleverly-worked 41 of those.
But the next two games generally failed to match the
relative, pleasing poignancy of that one.
When the Lions played the Warriors, the 31-year-old Lundi
Mbane did not bat and then bowled a miserly one over for five runs for the
latter side (although at least the established left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso,
who has seen some one-day service for South Africa, bagged a decent 2/19 in
four overs for the losing Lions).
In the “feature” fixture, the Cape Cobras’ debutant Aviwe
Mgijima cut a conspicuously cold, lonely figure as a boundary fielder and when finally
introduced to the attack as sixth bowler for a blink-and-you’d-miss-it over,
claimed one for eight in a mixture of decent and poor deliveries.
For opponents the Knights, meanwhile, Malusi Siboto had
unflattering figures of 2-0-19-0 as first change and like Mgijima did not get a
turn at the crease, whilst Lefa Mosena registered a duck and (vitally,
unfortunately) dropped a certain Hashim Amla behind the stumps early in the
batsman’s advance to 59 not out for the winning outfit.
It has to be noted that the inclusion of Mgijima in an
otherwise experienced and star-studded Cobras line-up meant such prospects as
Stiaan van Zyl – probably not that far off the juggernaut SA Test team? -- and
Yaseen Vallie could not even crack a gig on the day.
A glance at the latest Sunfoil Series averages does little
to suggest black African players are blossoming in any great numbers, although
a notable beacon of hope on the batting front (all too often a particularly
prominent area of difficulty) is that the Lions’ 23-year-old Temba Bavuma lies
fourth among the top run-scorers with 358 thus far at an average of a touch
The completed Momentum One Day Cup campaign also provides little
satisfaction, however: Zondo sneaked into the top 20 (in 20th
itself) among the run-scorers with 207 at 29.57, while the now slightly
long-in-the-tooth Ethy Mbhalati was eighth in the tourney wickets column with
12 scalps at 32.50.
My belief is that it is unreasonably early to make a
sweeping judgement on whether the latest “quota” initiative is a success or
failure, and that some hard questions and tough onward decisions are best
reserved for the end of, say, season two of the process .
But if certain black African cricketers are going to stay
awkward, marginal figures in their teams, it is not going to do their
confidence or development any special good and also runs the risk of stirring
broad ill-feeling and conflict.
Fortunately, in some ways, significant numbers of stalwart
Proteas personalities representing their franchises will soon become a rarity
again, making domestic selection less thorny and ensuring that more, deserving
young prospects at that level – across the spectrum of backgrounds – earn their
Should the quota system eventually be found wanting (or a
possibly optimistic scenario at this stage: obsolete!), CSA might do well to more
earnestly re-examine why it is that significant numbers of apparently sparkling
black prospects at U19 level suddenly fall through cracks upon graduation from
their teenage years.
Perhaps that is closer to the crux of the problem than by
employing a “forced” filtering of players into franchise XIs?
Unless they are bigots, the vast majority of South African
cricket lovers are sure to realise that, in a massively challenging climate for
the game, the need to aggressively fast-track black players is a worthy and
utterly necessary crusade.
The game needs buy-in from every section of the community,
including the biggest and previously most disadvantaged marketplace in this
It is just the application of the process that requires
constant, intense monitoring.
The jury’s out on the current model.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing