Cape Town – The national cricket team are well on track to complete a golden summer in results terms, and with simultaneous victory in the drive to achieve designated racial quota targets.
An imminent, all-formats international challenge in New Zealand remains before the curtain comes down fully on the Proteas’ 2016/17 season, and while greater cricketing perils almost certainly lurk there than came to the fore in modest Sri Lanka’s just completed visit to our shores, there is also no compelling reason to fear they will crash down to earth with a notable bump.
Certainly if the Black Caps are seen off in the main business of the Test and one-day international series, it will put a gleaming cherry on top of a campaign already marked by consistently magnificent conquests on home turf and, over the course of three Tests, in Australia too.
One thing won’t be derailed in New Zealand: fairly easily ticking the “political” box in terms of the team’s required demographic composition.
The Proteas are comfortably ahead of the game on that oft-debated front and, with a touring party consisting of nine overwhelmingly well-merited players of colour out of 15 in the Land of the Long White Cloud, aren’t going to suddenly run into a crisis or controversy on that front.
Indeed, being so on top of things over transformation raises a promising likelihood that, at the first 50-overs global tournament since the unfortunate “Kyle Abbott affair” raised its head – and almost undoubtedly caused some dressing-room distraction – immediately before the World Cup 2015 semi-final against New Zealand in Auckland, there will no semblance of a repeat in the UK-staged Champions Trophy during June.
Cricket South Africa announced their intention to formally introduce race-based quotas at national team level in late July last year, in response to increased Government pressure on various sports federations to transform themselves faster or face potentially damaging consequences.
Soon afterwards, CSA revealed a target of an average minimum of six players of colour in the Proteas XI, including two black Africans.
The new stipulations came into effect when South Africa hosted a once-off ODI against Ireland at Benoni in early-season (September 25).
Including that outing, the Proteas have played 20 international matches thus far in the 2016/17 season-proper, with a win record of 17 … translating to a stellar 85 percent.
The three setbacks have come in a dead-rubber Test match (Adelaide) and in two of three contests in the least consequential series during the period, the Twenty20 portion of the ‘Lankan visit when South Africa wisely rested most of their hard-pressed, top-grade personnel.
That the Proteas have been conquering opponents so regularly, and very often by gaping margins, is praiseworthy in itself … doing it while meeting (and then some, often) the needs of the quota system has been even more illuminating, and also done much to subdue the reservations or more strident objection of people unshakeable in their demand for pure “merit” in selection above all else.
On that score, there have been desperately few occasions when the team has not been picked on merit: players of colour have, more often than not, been contributing as fulsomely as any others or more so to the national team’s lingering hot streak.
It is true that “targets” come at an inevitable, at least partial cost: there is a case for arguing that selection has been made easier, and regrettably so, by defections of certain quality, proven international cricketers to Kolpak deals in England … Abbott, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl and one or two others come rapidly to mind.
But as long as South Africa are winning, objectors to the quota policy naturally command less of the high ground to be able to make a noise from.
The Proteas have either met or eclipsed designated, primary quotas in as many as 18 of the 20 matches referred to.
On just two occasions, they fell short -- by one -- of meeting the minimum requirement of six players of colour, whilst on another single occasion (the recent fourth ODI against Sri Lanka at Newlands) only one black African player rather than the intended minimum of two made the XI.
But otherwise it has been plain sailing, including five instances where they have fielded seven players of colour (63.6 percent of the line-up) and one where eight cracked the nod (72.7 percent).
The period has also seen three occasions where, for the first time, four black Africans have been on the park: the first was when the Irish were thrashed at Willowmoore Park and all of Kagiso Rabada, Temba Bavuma, Andile Phehlukwayo and Aaron Phangiso turned out in the 206-run win.
The phenomenon repeated itself during the T20 series against Sri Lanka – Phehlukwayo, Phangiso, Lungi Ngidi and Mangaliso Mosehle played in the SuperSport Park first-game triumph and the same figure was reached for game two at the Wanderers.
Given that targets are flexible, and calculated as an average per season across the three formats rather than on a match-by-match basis, the Proteas do appear to have the relative luxury, come the Champions Trophy when the whole cricketing world is watching, of being able to select “horses for courses” rather than have to do an anxious, racial numbers count before every match.
They have “stockpiled” sufficiently up to now, in a sense, to perhaps feel able to use more orthodox procedures in selection not just during the Champions Trophy but other important, bilateral-series business in England just beyond it – and if they drift out of prescribed quota boundaries in that period, a home series against Bangladesh early in the 2017/18 season offers possibilities of rebalancing again pretty smartly.
That would pleasingly put them back in line, at least for a while, with selection as conducted by all other countries, something most SA-based cricket enthusiasts must dream becomes the standard norm before too long …
Here is the complete list of 20 matches played by the Proteas so far (from start) since the quotas at national level were formalised, with tallies of players of colour in each instance:
Ireland, Benoni, ODI: won by 206 runs. Players of colour: 7 (4 black African)
Australia, Centurion, ODI: won by six wickets. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Australia, Johannesburg, ODI: won by 142 runs. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Australia, Durban, ODI: won by four wickets. Players of colour: 5 (2 black African)
Australia, Port Elizabeth, ODI: won by six wickets. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Australia, Cape Town, ODI: won by 31 runs. Players of colour: 5 (2 black African)
Australia, Perth, Test: won by 177 runs. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Australia, Hobart, Test: won by inns and 80 runs. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Australia, Adelaide, Test: lost by seven wickets. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Sri Lanka, Port Elizabeth, Test: won by 206 runs. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Sri Lanka, Cape Town, Test: won by 282 runs. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Sri Lanka, Johannesburg, Test: won by inns and 118 runs. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Sri Lanka, Centurion, T20: won by 19 runs. Players of colour: 7 (4 black African)
Sri Lanka, Johannesburg, T20: lost by three wickets. Players of colour: 7 (4 black African)
Sri Lanka, Cape Town, T20: lost by five wickets. Players of colour: 8 (3 black African)
Sri Lanka, Port Elizabeth, ODI: won by eight wickets. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Sri Lanka, Durban, ODI: won by 121 runs. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Sri Lanka, Johannesburg, ODI: won by seven wickets. Players of colour: 6 (2 black African)
Sri Lanka, Cape Town, ODI: won by 40 runs. Players of colour: 7 (1 black African)
Sri Lanka, Centurion, ODI: won by 88 runs. Players of colour: 7 (2 black African)
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