Cape Town – Expect South Africa’s one-day international and
Twenty20 squads to sport increasingly transformed make-ups … potentially paving
the way for a relatively unaltered, more merit-based character to the Test
If that proves the case, it is also a way in which the
Proteas may deftly skirt any repeat, on their looming three-Test tour of
Australia, of flashpoints like the “Justin Ontong affair” in Sydney during the
2001/02 visit to those shores.
A raw, then 21-year-old Ontong was installed for a Test
debut at the eleventh hour ahead of initial selection Jacques Rudolph for the
third and final Test (SA were
clean-swept 3-0 in the series), at the insistence of United Cricket Board
president Percy Sonn, citing the needs of transformation.
The move provoked a media storm both Down Under and back
home -- and the official, immediate-effect implementation of designated racial
percentage targets in the national sides, announced by Cricket South Africa at
the weekend, raises the potential for certain renewed “difficulties” in team
composition when the Proteas play three Tests in the very same Australia during
But while CSA finally confirmed their target numbers – an
average minimum of 54 percent players of colour, including 18 percent black
African – for the national team, the Test side may well, at least initially,
have more room for flexibility and compromise.
That is because the word “cumulative” appears a far from
insignificant ingredient in the complex, thorny process.
Not only will the targets be measured on a seasonal rather than
outright match-for-match basis, but they will be cumulative across the three
formats (Tests, ODIs, Twenty20 internationals).
So those hallmarks of the process do add some justification
to CSA president Chris Nenzani’s statement that “our selectors and team
management will have the flexibility to deal with varying circumstances”.
It may just be that CSA have shrewdly found a middle ground
to appease, as far as possible, the lobby demanding more vigorous
transformation and those who, contrastingly, lament the official implementation
for the first time – and some 25 years after unity – of hard-and-fast quotas at
My understanding of the “cumulative” part is that
comfortably exceeding required percentages in either or both of the limited-overs
SA teams/squads (and recent history suggests this is extremely feasible without
too many feathers being ruffled) will make it possible for the Proteas team in
the most traditional, five-day arena to operate in a manner relatively
undisturbed from current circumstances.
Remember that only a few days ago, in a crushing,
series-deciding Test victory over New Zealand at Centurion, South Africa played
much more like the No 1-ranked side they still were less than a year back … and
also fulfilled the now-prescribed “target” percentage requirement on all
They have also not been averse in recent times to fielding a
limited-overs side containing as many as eight players of colour – that was the
tally when they beat Australia in June, during a Caribbean ODI triangular
series, even though they were eventually the side bumped out of making the
Before the weekend, I would have ventured that the November
(Tests only) trip to Australia has the potential to cause first serious
ructions – and potentially by extension, acidly examine squad harmony – over
But it may now be possible for the Proteas to largely base
their picks on more orthodox, cricket-specific considerations when they play
the respective Tests against the old enemy in Perth, Hobart and Adelaide.
For the first Test at the famously speed-friendly WACA
venue, for example, South Africa may wish to field an all-pace attack,
endangering the place of off-spinner Dane Piedt and perhaps meaning the
installation of lanky, experienced strike bowler Morne Morkel in his place.
It would affect the race-based percentage, though not
profoundly so, and when the series moves on, altered pitch characteristics may
see a swift restoration of Piedt to the mix anyway.
Many countries, in modern times, use limited-overs cricket
as the first barometer of whether certain new players are likely to cut it at
international level broadly-speaking, whilst the relative lack of context to
some bilateral short-format series when World Cups are still a long way down
the line means key players are occasionally “rested” to further allow for
In the case of South Africa, such series could take on
useful additional purposes, given the country’s unique,
Like it or not, envisage a particularly strong
transformation theme to the Proteas’ limited-overs squads, starting pretty
But that may also be the “swing” that helps sustain a
relatively calm ride on the Test roundabout, if you get my drift …
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