TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg
VERNON Philander’s selection ahead of Kyle Abbott in the SA team that played in the 2015 World Cup semi-final was imposed on AB de Villiers, a new book says.
“It was generally assumed the same team (that beat Sri Lanka in the quarter-final) would be named to play in the semi-final,” De Villiers writes in “AB: the autobiography”, which was published on Thursday.
“That was my expectation as captain until I was called to a meeting at 5.30pm on the evening before the match, half-an-hour before our usual team meeting was due to start, and was told Vernon Philander, who had passed his fitness test a few days earlier, would play instead of Kyle Abbott.”
De Villiers does not reveal who summoned him to the earlier meeting, who else attended, and who issued the order that Philander would play.
Philander, who struggled with form and a hamstring injury to such an extent that he played in only half of SA’s eight games in the tournament, was drilled for 14 runs in his first over in the semi-final against New Zealand played at Eden Park in Auckland on March 24 last year.
That prompted De Villiers to scatter Philander’s other seven overs throughout the innings, presumably to try and spare him a mauling.
Philander, who left the field immediately he completed his eighth over, went wicketless for 52.
New Zealand won by four wickets with a ball to spare when Johannesburg-born Grant Elliott smashed Dale Steyn down the ground for six.
“I knew about the Proteas convention that an incumbent player who is injured will automatically go back into the team when he returns to fitness, and ‘Vern’ an incumbent,” De Villiers writes.
“Vernon and Dale had been our regular opening bowlers and were earmarked to lead our regular attack and I sensed the selectors thought Vernon would thrive in New Zealand conditions. Even so, it seemed to me, there would have been other considerations.”
The “other considerations” would seem to be Cricket SA’s (CSA) transformation policy, which called for a quota – which CSA term a “target” – of four players of colour in the team.
Philander’s inclusion fulfilled the quota but branded a bowler who had by then taken 121 wickets in 29 tests as being unworthy of his place on merit.
It also denied Abbott, SA’s best bowler in the tournament in terms of average, economy rate and strike rate, the opportunity he deserved.
CSA at first denied media reports that they had interfered in selection but subsequently admitted that their chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, was “consulted” over the make-up of the team.
“So what had happened,” De Villiers writes. “Had Vernon, who was officially classified as coloured, been selected ahead of Kyle, who was officially white, to ensure there were four players of colour in the semi-final? Or had the decision been made for purely cricketing reasons?”
Regrettably, De Villiers doesn’t answer those questions in the book.
Nor does he venture closer to any other controversy than would be prudent for a player still nestled deep in corporatised cricket.
But we don’t have to take De Villiers’ word for it.
The minutes of a meeting in Parliament on June 2 last year that involved the Portfolio Committee for Sport and Recreation and the Eminent Persons Group record that Willie Basson, a member of CSA’s transformation committee, “said there had been mistakes on the side of cricket’s administration, where it had sent a note to the team management on the eve of the semi-final, reminding them about (CSA’s) policy on demographic representation”.