Legendary Hollywood actress Bette Davis once said: “Oh, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We’ve already got the stars.”
I guess Davis meant that the stars, in all their sparkling glory, offer much more hope and an aspirational sense of progress than the moon – pale, often dull and boringly well within reach.
As the old cliches go, we reach for the stars, are born under them and thank them when we get lucky. And it seems the lucky stars have been shining brightly on South African cricket of late.
Last week, I woke up to some encouraging news in the form of Andile Phehlukwayo’s selection in the Proteas one-day international squad for the upcoming matches against Ireland and Australia.
If you’re currently unaware, the 20-year-old impressed at his domestic franchise, the Sunfoil Dolphins, last season, having finished as their leading wicket taker in T20 matches.
Not only does it seem we have in our midst another promising prospect in the bowling department, Phehlukwayo fancies himself somewhat more than a bowler. According to an article published on Espncricinfo.com this week, he “regards himself as a genuine all-rounder and wants to add to his solitary first-class 50 when the opportunity presents itself”.
Whether that materialises is yet to be seen, but what we do have to look forward to is another fiery youngster entering the national fray to inject some much-needed energy into it. What I find most interesting, though, is how even talented and confident young black players feel the need to justify, or indeed preface, their selection.
In the same article on Espncricinfo.com, Phehlukwayo was quoted as saying: “As young black players, we will have to understand we are examples, and our performances and our consistency will be looked at. At the same time, we can’t put too much pressure on ourselves because that can also affect you as a player.”
If you cast your mind back a few months, Proteas veteran Hashim Amla had something similar to say.
“Personally, I know the pressure, what players of colour go through when they first come into the set-up – certainly in our country,” he was quoted as saying in January after Temba Bavuma scored his maiden test century at Newlands against England.
Amla went on to say that “the first time we [black cricketers] 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.”
Why is it that black players have to bear this added burden? One obvious answer is that racism and unfair exclusion have been so normalised in South African sport over the years, that black players are viewed as “others”, or exceptions, rather than the norm in a country with an 80% black population.
From their utterances and cautious justifications in the media, one gets a sense they are actually made to feel “othered” when placed in the mix of privileged, white male, bum-slapping bonhomie.
And, to use another cliche, therein lies the rub: black players, regardless of how talented they are, will only truly shine like the stars they are once they feel their places in the side are as normal and as acceptable as a good old-fashioned brandy and Coke.
It will take time, but Phehlukwayo’s selection is another promising sign, and if I’ve read the stars correctly, I’d say the face of South African cricket is set to change dramatically, for the better, over the next couple of years – whether the pale, dull and boring moon likes it or not.
.@Longbottom_69 is an armchair cricket critic. He’s always had a keen interest in astrology