SA did not have to pick four black players for World Cup semi

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

CRICKET SA’s (CSA) transformation charter calls for the meeting of race targets to be measured over time rather than in one match.

That only adds to the intrigue of why the board apparently forced a change in the team that took the field in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in Auckland last month.

Sources have confirmed to Times Media that Vernon Philander, who missed four of the seven games SA played before the semi because of a hamstring injury, was selected ahead of Kyle Abbott – the team’s leading bowler in the tournament in terms of average, economy rate and strike rate – on the board’s orders.

Philander’s inclusion meant SA fielded four players of colour in the match, thus meeting what has come to be accepted as the unofficial quota. But they did not need to.

“The transformation charter says team composition targets should be measured over a period of time – a season, for instance – rather than on a match-by-match basis,” Willie Basson, a member of CSA’s transformation committee, said on Thursday. “If you go match-by-match you put the team under severe stress.”

That happened against New Zealand, when Philander conceded 14 runs in his first over. He was spared similar punishment in his other seven overs, only once going for more than eight runs, and finished with the best economy rate of all SA’s seam bowlers – but only because of cottonwool captaincy by AB de Villiers. Once he had finished bowling, Philander left the field.

The cost to SA of nursing an unfit, rusty bowler through something as important as a World Cup semi-final cannot be measured. But it is far less than that paid by Philander: he has proved himself a peerless test bowler, but, at Eden Park on March 24, he was reduced to a quota player.

Times Media understands that the XI that was first picked for the match was unchanged from the side that dominated Sri Lanka in the quarter-finals. But it included just three players of colour.

So SA had to choose between including Farhaan Behardien, who had batted just twice in his four matches in the tournament and taken no wickets, Wayne Parnell, who went for 85 runs in nine overs in his only previous match, against India, Aaron Phangiso, who had spent the entire event on the bench, and Philander, who had left the field in the game against India because of his injury and pulled out the match against Pakistan during the warm-up.

Exactly who forced Abbott out of the team remains unclear. But the evidence that he was forced out took a great leap forward in Shanghai on Thursday when Mike Horn, who served as a consultant to SA at the World Cup, was interviewed by Eyewitness News.

“What actually happened was the (semi-final) team was the team that played against Sri Lanka,” Horn was quoted as saying. “We’re not going into any politics but it had a role to play.”

Horn said the decision not to pick Abbott meant “a little bit of energy was taken away from the quarter-finals where the right team played”.

He said he had to tell the team they had to find a way to “make the difference with less but give more”.

Asked for comment, the chairperson of CSA’s transformation committee, Norman Arendse, referred Times Media to earlier reports in which he denied claims of board interference.

CSA’s transformation manager, Max Jordaan, did not respond to questions emailed to him.

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