Johannesburg – Ah … good old “targets” in South African
The devil always seems to be in the definition: does one
properly exist? It’s tempting to venture not.
Targets, you see, are arguably only the more emotion-charged
“quotas” in a “kind of” sense, if you get my drift.
They are supposedly more aspirational in intent than out-and-out
prescriptive over the racial balancing of cricket teams in the country … at
least that is the way I have often interpreted things in the ever-complex, delicate
So even as they dropped a bit of a curveball into the very
midst of their lavish double celebrations here early this week (25 years of
unity, and a night later the annual CSA Awards) by announcing on Tuesday that
the board of directors had agreed in principle for the introduction of targets
for its national teams, there was plenty of scope to ponder: what does this
Let’s examine it from an opposite perspective, as if facing
a leggie’s wrong ‘un. What it doesn’t mean yet -- perhaps something not without
significance – is that national teams have a designated figure to be religiously
met in terms of their make-up, a policy that has been in place at franchise
level to gradually increasing degrees in recent years.
Currently, the domestic teams are required, as stipulated
before last season, to field a minimum of six players of colour and at least
three of them must be black African, in all competitions.
For some time, CSA has insisted previously that there are no
targets at national level, but now president Chris Nenzani says that “changing
circumstances” have forced the organisation to “move with the times”.
But they stopped short in the announcement of applying an
actual, desired target figure; Nenzani, possibly with a shrewd vagueness, said
that would “depend on work to be undertaken by relevant committees to determine
what is realistic and sustainable”.
I believe it safe to say that there are some influential
figures from varying backgrounds, both in the CSA boardroom hierarchy and
Proteas team management group, who would have preferred targets to remain a
device outside of international plans, and still confined to the vital “feeding”
tier one notch down.
When Nenzani talks of “changing circumstances” there is
every likelihood, however, that he is effectively saying CSA have been
persuaded by pressure from the sports ministry and broader Government to more
closely align with their view, rightly or wrongly, on the correct pace of
In short, Government has sought pre-determined minimums over
players of colour at the highest level of competition, whereas CSA had, until
this point, been fairly steadfastly keener on more natural growth.
How many players of colour is the “right” tally? Er, how
long is a piece of string?
As recently as last month, South Africa beat arch-enemies
Australia in a one-day international in Guyana while fielding a record eight
players of colour, including the entire bowling attack.
“There are occasions when the selectors pick the team and
race, quite honestly, doesn’t even come into it,” an authoritative CSA figure
told me on Tuesday.
That does seem to shout, or at least forcefully suggest, progress.
Be that as it may, though, at least some element of “manufacture”
is soon, seemingly, going to officially bump aside merit as a compulsory criterion
for selection at Proteas level.
An advantage will be that CSA ought to return to better
favour with motor-mouthed Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula – perhaps even to the
not unimportant degree that he may lift his ban on their bidding to host major
I have it on excellent authority, for instance, from an
International Cricket Council insider that the world body is keen and willing
to offer South Africa – a little in the cold, considering it is a supposed
superpower, for big events since the Champions Trophy of 2009 – the next
intended (2018) edition of the World Twenty20.
“South Africa wouldn’t even have to bid for it; it is all
but sitting on a plate for them,” he said. “The ICC has come back around to the
realisation that you can’t keep giving all major events just to India or
“The country is known to have hosted World Cups and others
very successfully, and it also sits favourably from a time-zone point of view
for the huge television market of the Subcontinent.”
Yet the thought that Proteas teams may soon, for the first
time, be specifically compiled from considerations that go beyond just the
appropriate requirements for the pitch of the day, is going to make plenty of
their supporters shudder (and then some, in probably just as many cases).
It would represent a conscious a departure from the
selection orthodoxy, if that is the right word, which characterises all other
And at a time when the Proteas, negotiating a period where
their powers have slightly waned across most formats and getting bums on
stadium seats is a mounting challenge, any perception that they have succumbed
to political correctness is highly unlikely to serve as a rejuvenating tonic.
All that said, it may be an opportune time for a sprinkling of
Just over 25 years ago, the cricket part of the South
African fabric was riddled with as much turmoil and division as broader
society, and the national team a dormant, 21-year skunk, unwelcome in official
The marking of quarter of a century of unity on Monday
brought together a galaxy of greats, of decents, and moderately goods, from
several generations, and you would have to have been of seriously cynical mind
not to detect discernible levels of goodwill, enthusiastic banter and
CSA aspired to pull in for the banquet every post-isolation
Proteas player, and seemed to get pretty close.
Naturally some couldn’t make it, and sent regrets. But very,
very few, by all accounts, said a more blunt, outright “no”.
Whatever your thoughts on CSA policy or the various
individual custodians at the core of it, it’s a tricky old game they have to
play … and that’s well before you roll a pitch and insert stumps.
Or yes, even pick your XI.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing