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Monday, 18 October, 1999, 17:45 GMT
South Africa - A unique selection policy
Makhaya Ntini's promising Test career was put on hold

Even when South Africa were well on their way to a 5-0 whitewash of the West Indies last winter, they could not satisfy everyone in the country.

The team, politicians argued, did not represent the cultural demographics of the nation and therefore could not consider itself to be truly national.

There is nothing new in attempted political intervention in sport.

Where South Africa is different, however, is that the reaction of the United Cricket Board (UCB) was to heed the criticism and all but tear up its old selection policy of picking the best available eleven and introduce radical and unique measures to achieve the desired balance.

The turning point came when, roundly condemned for fielding an all-white side for the first Test against West Indies at the Wanderers, the UCB were forced to guarantee that, other than in extreme circumstances, they would always include at least one "player of colour" - which is to say of black, Cape Coloured, or Asian decent - in the side.

Herschelle Gibbs: Thrown in at the deep end against West Indies
The most likely non-white candidates to demand selection, Paul Adams, Makhaya Ntini and Roger Telemachus, were either struggling for form or injured.

In the end Herschelle Gibbs, a Cape Coloured, was drafted in to face Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose in the unaccustomed position of opener on a green top at Port Elizabeth.

There have also to be changes to the domestic structure of the game.

From this season, all provinces will be compelled to field at least one non-white player in first-class cricket.

Additionally, they will only be able to contract 16 cricketers each, with a pool of 20-25 promising and mostly black players distributed like mercenaries around the country.

There has been an expansion of the first-class competition to include 11 provinces in order to give the opportunity to a greater number of players to experience the four-day game.

Ali Bacher: South Africa's cricketing supremo
Imtiaz Patel, the UCB director of professional cricket, said the new system was "an important balancing act between cricketing needs and developmental needs".

That may be so, but there has already been criticism that the new system is watering down the talent, making it resemble England's county championship rather than Australia's Sheffield Shield.

Part of the problem for South Africa's selectors is that Adams has struggled to hold down his place on merit and Ntini, the first black cricketer to play for the country, was convicted of rape - a conviction that has since been overturned on appeal.

The UCB were so desperate for Ntini to play that, though he was on bail pending the outcome of the appeal against the conviction which carried a six-year jail term, he was included in a pre-season friendly between Border and Eastern Province earlier this year.

Following an outcry from the public, human rights and women's groups, he was withdrawn from the match and the UCB, which has gone out of its way to support Ntini, then said he was disqualified ''from all cricket matches under the control of the BCB until the judicial process has taken its course and the case has been finalised.''

Now cleared, Ntini is ready to revive his international career.

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See also:
18 Oct 99 |  England on Tour
1995-96: England throw it away
18 Oct 99 |  England on Tour
Hansie Cronje: Captain on trial
18 Oct 99 |  England on Tour
South African Test venues
18 Oct 99 |  England on Tour
England need Swann to strutt
18 Oct 99 |  England on Tour
South Africa player profiles
18 Oct 99 |  England on Tour
England player profiles
18 Oct 99 |  Cricket
Cronje turns back on Glamorgan

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