CSA ‘quota’: few early fruits

2014-01-07 14:24
CSA logo (File)

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 under 60.

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 rightful opportunities.

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 country.

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  

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