Eyes on the prize of a glittering future

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

MANGALISO Mosehle? Lungi Ngidi? Dane Paterson? Jon-Jon Smuts? Theunis de Bruyn? Who are these people?

If your cricket focus is fixed on the international rather than the domestic level you would be forgiven for asking.

They are, respectively, a wicketkeeper, a medium pacer, a fast bowler, an allrounder and a batsman in South Africa’s squad for the T20 series against Sri Lanka that started in Centurion on Friday and continued at the Wanderers on Sunday.

Five members of the group of 13 had not played at senior international level in any format going into the series.

Between them the 13 hold 462 international caps across all formats. But 320 of them are in the kit bags of Farhaan Behardien, Imran Tahir and David Miller.

It’s fair, then, to call this an experimental squad.

“If there was a World T20 anytime soon maybe we wouldn’t have experimented like this,” selection convenor Linda Zondi said.

“T20 can be hard for young guys because a good ball can be hit for six and then they are under pressure.

“But we need to make sure we see these players under pressure. That way we can see how they might perform in the other formats and they can be groomed.

“It’s an opportunity to rest the senior guys who have a long season ahead and to see these young guys coming through.

“Some of them have been around for a long time and some of them have shown potential, but it’s important to reward excellence.

“There’s always a big gap between the franchise and international levels, but let’s see these guys. Yes, they may be challenged. Yes, they may lose or they may win.

“But our role is to look ahead, and not just to winning the match and the series.

“Let’s look ahead to how we create back-up systems. That’s part of our holistic approach.”

Not that Zondi wouldn’t be perturbed should South Africa be drilled by a Lankan outfit who, personnel changes or not, will still be hurting hard from being thrashed 3-0 in the test series.

“Every game you play for your country is important,” he said. “The public want a team that is winning continually. So we want these guys to play with a winning mentality. We want to give opportunities but we also want to win.”

Only four members of the squad are white. Of the remaining nine, four are black African.

On the face of it that is a heartening indication that transformation efforts are gaining traction.

If the selectors are comfortable putting that many players of colour into a squad, even for a throwaway T20 series, we must be getting somewhere.

Or are we? Is there a danger of series like this becoming a dumping ground for black players picked mostly to facilitate creative accounting of the transformation statistics, what with Cricket South Africa looking to get back into Fikile Mbalula’s good books to earn the right to bid for major events? 

“Not at all,” Zondi said. “It’s not a numbers game. We’ve passed the required percentage, so I’m not worried about that.

“If we were short (of black players) in the tests we would need to catch up. But we do not need to catch up.”

Besides, the players that he and his panel have chosen to back have – regardless of their race – justified their selection.

“We’ve been fortunate in that the guys we’ve selected haven’t disappointed us,” Zondi said.

“There will be times that they will, but so far so good.”

So, step up messrs. Mosehle, Ngidi, Paterson, Smuts and De Bruyn.

You have big boots to fill and an important role to play in the progress cricket must make.

And you need to make sure that everybody knows your names.

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