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  Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 13:58 GMT
Another door closes
Jacques Rudolph and Shaun Pollock
Rudolph was informed by Pollock of his deselection
BBC Sport Online's Martin Gough looks at the way politics have intervened for a second time to deny Jacques Rudolph a Test debut.

Jaques Rudolph could perhaps consider himself unlucky to miss out on a Test debut against India in November.

But the 20-year-old must be wondering what exactly is happening after political considerations again kept him out of the South African XI for the third Test in Sydney.

After he made five first class centuries in the first two months of this season, Rudolph's elevation to national colours was eagerly awaited.

Jacques Rudolph batting in Perth
Rudolph plays the hook shot against Western Australia
And with Boeta Dippenaar in miserable form in the first two Tests against India, Rudolph was widely expected to play in the final rubber at his home ground of Centurion Park.

But politics intervened. In the wake of the controversy surrounding match referee Mike Denness, the International Cricket Council ruled that the match was not a Test.

Although Rudolph admitted to feeling goosebumps as he walked out to bat for his country for the first time, it was not in a match that would count for the records.

And home captain Shaun Pollock said that the game was played in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Dippenaar form

The Northerns batsman made a controlled, confident 21 in his only innings before being somewhat unfortunately run out as South Africa won the match by an innings.

The nerves may have been helped by the fact that his name had already been announced in the squad to tour Australia.

Once again Dippenaar began the series against the world champions in poor form, but so did all-rounder Lance Klusener.

And Dippenaar's century against New South Wales (following an innings of 51 from Rudolph) apparently convinced the selectors to give the Free Stater another chance.

With Klusener heading home prior to the Sydney Test, Dippenaar was expected to move to six in the order, with Rudolph coming in at three.

But United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) president Percy Sonn turned down the originally selected team, saying that coloured player Justin Ontong should instead replace Klusener in the lower order.

Opening batsman

His argument was not that any racial quota needed to be adhered to - Gibbs is coloured, but there is no official policy governing selection of the national team.

He was rather arguing that a man not selected as a lower order batsman had jumped Ontong's place in the queue.

Rudolph in the nets
Rudolph is yet to get out of the nets at Test level
"Jacques Rudolph came over to shadow the first three - he's a top order batsman, as is Boeta Dippenaar," said Sonn. "Ontong was brought in to shadow positions six and lower.

"If you try to shuffle number threes into number sixes you are doing something that is exclusionary to people who are brought in to shadow other positions."

As both Dippenaar and Rudolph are opening batsmen in provincial cricket, the policy of selecting the two in the middle order was never going to be universally popular.

But Northerns coach Dave Nosworthy told BBC Sport Online in November that Rudolph could play anywhere in the batting order.

"He's only been opening for us this season when we moved him up the order," Nosworthy said.

"But he's equally happy against seam and spin and there are no obvious weaknesses in his game."

Dippenaar's potential has similarly been put on hold because of the dominance of Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten at the top of the order.

The names of Jacques Kallis and Neil McKenzie are also written in stone and, until Klusener's recent dip in form, the number six slot was tied up as well.

Chance to impress

Ontong, making his Test debut, has had little opportunity to prove his case so far in international cricket, although he was out for a pair against New South Wales.

Considered an off-spin-allrounder in the provincial game, he has played in seven limited overs matches in the West Indies and in Zimbabwe at the beginning of this season.

Justin Ontong
Ontong gets the nod because he is the lower order backup
But he has batted in just three innings, making 45 runs.

Forty-seven overs have brought just three wickets, at an average of 64.00 but a respectable 4.08 economy rate.

On Wednesday he bowled just two overs, conceding 10 runs.

But, with left-armer Claude Henderson sharing the spin duties with Nicky Boje - who only arrived in Australia on the day before the match - Ontong is unlikely to play a major role with the ball, even on Sydney's spin-friendly surface.

Rudolph has a superior first class bowling average, purveying leg-spin, his 32 wickets coming at 26.71 compared to Ontong's 38 at 44.78.

Sonn rejected suggestions that following this controversial policy would weaken the team, saying his decision doesn't "of necessity produce a team or an effort that is less than the best we give".

But the selectors had obviously picked what they believed to be the strongest team available.

And it would be easy to understand were Rudolph to feel aggrieved at the last-minute about-turn.

All the reports from the Test match

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