THIS is a column about cricket and politics in South Africa – and about the products associated with a bull’s bum, which spew out with irritating monotony from the mouths of former cricketers with shameful records of acquiescence during the apartheid era.
What I’ve written here has been motivated by the ridiculous spat that began to-ing and fro-ing within hours of the Proteas being dumped out of the cricket World Cup at the semi-final stage by a very good New Zealand side.
In writing this, I’ve dragged in Vernon Philander – but just briefly. I’ve given transformation a mention too. And I couldn’t resist planting a slobbering, full-on man-kiss on AB de Villiers for his batting … as well as an air-kick under his jack for his shitty captaincy.
Listen, I won’t even whisper this: as a leader of men, AB is pretty rubbish. With the other heads that have rolled – bowling coach Allan Donald and chief of selectors Andrew Hudson – in the aftermath of the Proteas’ World Cup heartbreak, De Villiers would be well advised to hand over the reins to Faf du Plessis or Hashim Amla.
Let me make another quick declaration: I’m a Philander fan – a big one. And, if you love the Proteas, here’s why you ought to be one too….
It took Philander just seven tests to claim 50 wickets, the second fastest bowler in test history to achieve this feat. (An Australian named Charles Turner, who took 50 wickets in six tests in the 1880s, holds the record.)
Philander claimed his 100th scalp in his 19th test, the joint sixth-fastest ever.
You don’t have to be a cricketing genius to know that these statistics are top drawer stuff.
In a game that has produced bowling greats such as Wesley Hall, Gary Sobers, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Dennis Lillee, Geoff Thompson, Freddie Truman, Kapil Dev, Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne, among a host of others, Philander’s achievements would be regarded as world-class – anywhere.
He’d be one of the first people to be khokied onto the starting XI list of most international teams.
If he was available for the match against New Zealand – and he was – he should have been picked (as indeed he was).
But here’s the darnedest thing: if you’d asked Ali Bacher, Fanie de Villiers, Craig Matthews, and Pat Symcox to pick the South African team (and assuming they had their way), Philander would probably not have been included in the side that played New Zealand in their World Cup semi-final, because another bowler, Kyle Abbott, had been bowling rather well while Philander was recovering from an injury.
By their (in my opinion) convoluted logic, Philander is still a quota player.
So here’s the million-dollar question: ‘Why do they think this way?
A sad legacy
The answer, contrary to what Bob Dylan sang in the 1960s, is NOT blowing in the wind. Rather, it is to the past that we must look to find answers to some of the biting sports-political questions of our present and, probably, our future.
This is not necessarily a bad thing for a country where hundreds of thousands of my compatriots have been struck down by collective amnesia, of which the symptoms are a curious inability to remember what this country was like pre-1994, and the role they played in making it that way.
Here’s a gentle reminder for those who have forgotten: South Africa used to be the polecat of the world.
And here’s something else to ponder – and those who want to cringe with embarrassment, please feel welcome. Perhaps real remorse will begin if you do….
In the last all-white elections in 1989, slightly more than 1-million people voted for the party of apartheid, the National Party; and about 600,000 voters put their faith in the even more right-wing Conservative Party.
What happened to these voters? Here’s a clue: the vast majority didn’t fly to Perth, Auckland, Vancouver or London, to set up little all-white enclaves, complete with their biltong, Marmite and Jungle Oats.
Yup, you’ve guessed right. They’re still comfortably, if not entirely happily, ensconced in South Africa.
Many who stayed reinvented themselves, with most of them swopping the kruithoring of the National Party for the blue and yellow of the Democratic Alliance; a miniscule number threw in their lot with the green, white and orange of the Freedom Front Plus.
Not surprisingly, a great many have remained glued – mentally, anyway – and, perhaps, even voluntarily, to one of the spinoffs of apartheid: the propensity to be patronizing.
Which brings me to Bacher, De Villiers, Matthews and Symcox….
This week Bacher stepped into the fray. Yes, he … the same man who was prepared to captain an all-white team to Australia in 1971, whose national president had tried to bribe two black players, Owen Williams and Dik Abed (both of whom rejected this despicable offer with contempt) to accompany the team in a futile bid to save that tour, and who disrupted world cricket by paying rebel cricketers astronomical sums of money between 1982 and 1989 to play all-white teams in South Africa – instead of directing his energies at fighting apartheid.
Bacher had the smug temerity to suggest that the allegations against the Cricket SA CEO Haroon Lorgat had become serious and that he needed to give answers.
If I were Lorgat, I’d have told him in good Cape Flats language where to go. But Lorgat is a gentleman, and so a media release reminding everyone of Bacher’s hypocrisy – and about what Frank Keating, a journalist with the British Guardian newspaper said about Mike Gatting’s rebels when they returned to England after a curtailed tour in 1990, would have had to be my alternative suggestion: ‘No more inglorious, downright disgraced and discredited team of sportsmen wearing the badge of “England” can ever have returned through customs with such nothingness to declare.’
Perhaps Lorgat could remind Bacher too that he had every right to insist that Philander, one of the team’s top bowlers, be included in the Proteas’ semi-final side.
And then, there’s Vinnige Fanie de Villiers….
Let me give you some background on this expert on morality in cricket. De Villiers was also a happy participant in a rebel tour. ‘ [I] played against the Mike Gatting rebels,’ he said proudly in an interview a few years ago. ‘We played to full houses. Our provincial games, full house. Rebel games, full house. They love sport in this country.’
In an interview this week with Gareth Cliff on CliffCentral, De Villiers smugly said that the Proteas team that went to the World Cup was not the strongest that could have been selected. In fact, he said the national side had not been picked on merit for 17 years. He also said that the Titans, the provincial franchise with which he is connected, could send out a team of ’12 internationals’ for their matches. But because of quotas, only five (presumably white) internationals could play at any given time. His inference was obvious: the Proteas, as well as provincial teams have been condemned never be at their best – because they have to pick black players.
What De Villiers claimed is a load of bollocks. But bollocks is what the community he represents wants to hear. He should be challenged to say who were not merit selections in the national side that played at the World Cup – and who should have been selected ahead of them.
Frankly, I’m surprised at Matthews and Symcox. Both served as national selectors – and they should therefore be well aware of the policies of CSA. Both punted a line that they would have more respect for CSA if they openly admitted to supporting quotas for the national side. Matthews, who was also selected to play against Gatting’s rebels, once said: ‘I had dreamed as a boy of playing against a foreign touring team – and that dream was … destroyed by demonstrators. Little did I realise that those demonstrations would ultimately offer me the opportunity to play Test cricket, for that I am eternally grateful.’
Quite clearly, his interests centred solely on cricket – and highlighted what many black cricketers suggested when the country’s cricketing bodies united: ‘All that white cricketers are interested in is riding into international sport on our backs.’
Seeing yesterday today
I know that some critics of this column will tell me to stop living in the past. ‘Get that chip off your shoulder,’ they’ll hiss. So, surprise … surprise, let me tell you about something that happened just a few months ago, to demonstrate how little attitudes have changed.
In October last year, cricketers who, in pre-unity days, had played in the predominantly white Western Province Cricket Union held an ‘open day’ (for want of a better term).
There were a few interesting things about this event….
Firstly, they selected four teams to play two matches at Newlands: there was a 20-over game involving ‘younger’ players; while the other match was a fun, hit-around kind of affair, in which each bowler bowled an over, and each batsman faced six balls.
Secondly, and here’s what I found flabbergasting: Not a single black player was invited to play in these games – even though during the ‘normal’ cricket era, quite a few players of colour, Omar Henry, for example, had joined teams in the Union.
Thirdly, and even more shocking was what they called their day: ‘Cricket as we knew it.’
I believe that this was an insult to every black player who played in that union – and even those who didn’t. To me, it was a ‘When we’ wake … a ‘when we were a white union get-together.
I’m shocked that the authorities at Newlands gave these people permission to use the grounds for such an occasion.
But, in another way, I was also glad that the match was arranged. It emphasized the lack of commitment, mainly by white people, to true unity in cricket. And now, the furore over Philander’s selection in the World Cup semi-final has provided further proof of this.