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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, 14:43 GMT
Politics overshadow SA selection
By Neil Manthorp
South African cricket journalist

Wicket-keeper Mark Boucher
Coach Ray Jennings made it clear he wanted Boucher back
The announcement of the South Africa squad to face England in the first Test represents the second time in the post-isolation era that politics have over-ruled the sport.

The first time that rumours and whispers of political interference in the selection of national teams gained solid substance was in 2001.

Then, United Cricket Board president Percy Sonn personally over-ruled the selection of white batsman Jacques Rudolph to face Australia and replaced him with Justin Ontong, a player classified as "coloured".

On that occasion Shaun Pollock was still uncertain of the composition of his team 15 minutes before he walked out for the toss.

The team's collective morale plunged to an all-time low and Gary Kirsten described the episode as "one of the saddest days in my entire career".

The ramifications and after-shocks continued for years and the careers of both Rudolph and Ontong were set back by a year and three years respectively.

A very important person is bound to say the cricketing argument is based on racially biased perceptions
They fell into a kind of delayed shock at having been used so flagrantly as pawns in a game of racially charged chess.

Close friends for years before that tour and room mates at the time, they both pleaded, publicly, to be recognised as cricketers - and only cricketers.

The latest selection sees Western Province wicket-keeper Thami Tsolekile dressed up in pawn's clothing and ready to do battle in a contest that involves much more than cricket.

Just like Rudolph and Ontong, Tsolekile happens to be one of the most cheerful and well-liked members of the national squad.

Official quotas abolished in 2002 but 'guidelines' remain
All teams tend to include at least two 'players of colour', of which one tends to be a black African
Five 'players of colour' are included in any touring squad
He is precociously talented and has the right attitude to succeed.

But right now it would be impossible to find anybody who has ever played cricket who saw him perform in India, with bat or gloves, to say that he did not look out of his depth.

Technically, he was badly exposed.

A very important person, somewhere in the system, is bound to say the cricketing argument is merely subjective and based on racially biased perceptions.

But the decision comes straight after the re-jigging of the selection panel.

Thami Tsolekile
Tsolekile's technical flaws were exposed on tour in India
Coach Ray Jennings, a selector, was so adamant he wanted 76-Test veteran Mark Boucher behind the stumps that he dispensed with protocol and made his views public in a Sunday newspaper.

The decision earned him an official reprimand from the UCB chief executive Gerald Majola.

Captain Graeme Smith, who is not a selector, felt as strongly as Jennings about Boucher's recall.

Joubert Strydom, who is a selector, had this to say a year ago when he was first appointed to the panel: "My philosophy on selection is that you have to give the captain the team he wants on the field."

Enver Mall, the third selector, was also widely known to have favoured the recall of Boucher.

Only Omar Henry, sacked four days ago as convenor of the panel and now reduced to the ranks, was against the recall of the former vice-captain.

But a three-one vote wasn't good enough to persuade the politicians.

Over the next few days there will be much padding and frothing from the men in charge.

But the damage is done and the truth is known. The best that can be hoped for is that Tsolekile and Boucher are strong enough to survive a sad, sad day.

Henry loses SA chief selector job
07 Dec 04 |  South Africa
Tsolekile relishing big chance
27 Oct 04 |  South Africa

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