Howzat! SA sport selection is not black or white

Temba Bavuma's exclusion from the Proteas team has been a contentious issue. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Temba Bavuma's exclusion from the Proteas team has been a contentious issue. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Jan 11, 2020


So, this was my tweet during the second Test between the Proteas and England at Newlands: "I am not knocking the talent of Faf (du Plessis) or (Aiden) Markram, but Faf averages 28 in his last 31 Test innings, Markram averages 31 in his last 33 innings, but it seems so easy 4 (sic) so many to want to dump Temba (Bavuma), who averages 31 in the same period?"

The tweet, on my timeline of just 17500 followers, earned 57 700 tweet impressions. I got 202 likes to my tweet, 98 retweets and 76 responses.

It is the responses that again highlighted the absolute racial divide that exists when discussing South African sport and those players good enough to represent this country. I questioned why it was so convenient to dump a black player because the perception was that he wasn’t good enough, but so little analysis went into defending the white player when it came to performance.

I challenged the stereotype that perception trumps fact. Then challenged the perception and pointed to the facts. In this instance, run-scoring facts.

I didn’t dispute that Bavuma was short of Test runs, but I questioned why white players are given the grace of a dry period in Test cricket but it never gets questioned among the sporting public on social media. Why was the perception greater than the fact?

I questioned why the black player has to excel from day one, so as to have the white South African supporter acknowledging he is there on merit? I questioned why a white player is always a merit selection but a black player is only a merit selection when, in the eyes of the bigots, he produces match-winning performances?

It was not an attack on race, but an entry point to the discussion about race in our sport? It was not a flippant, bait-clicking remark, but one that asked a question because of performance over an extended period of time.

Where was the cricketing debate around this? Why wasn’t the performance of a player dissected on the merits of cricket and, in this instance, runs?

Any player who gets to Test level can play the game, so the tweet was not about questioning an ability of the players. The question was about why each player wasn’t judged equally and their respective performances weren’t judged equally.

The Proteas captain, Faf du Plessis, had gone on record to say his vice-captain in the Indian series (Bavuma), unavailable for the first Test against England, was available for the Newlands Test but was not considered because of a lack of runs. The selectors would go with a player, who on debut against England had scored a Test fifty.

Du Plessis said the challenge for Bavuma was to go back to domestic cricket and make his case through weight of runs.

The question to Du Plessis is this: when does he feel he needs to go back to domestic cricket to make his case, by way of weight of runs? Du Plessis, between January and March in 2018, scored 65 runs in nine Test innings at an average of 8.1. The selectors believed in him and, despite the horror run, he finally came good with a Test century.

Question to the mass murderers of Bavuma’s international career, would they have allowed for a Test return of 65 runs in nine Test innings for Bavuma? The answer, if you visit all the social media platforms, is emphatically no.

Back in the early 1990s, the West Indies were touring South Africa. The West Indies captain Carl Hooper went out to bat and his Test batting career statistics showed up on the screen. It read that he had a Test average of 31. Mike Haysman, commentating on SuperSport with Sir Geoffrey Boycott, remarked that Hooper was a far better batsman than his average suggested. Boycott’s retort was: "No, he is as good as his average suggests." Boycott added that the perception was Hooper was better than 31, but the fact was that Hooper was a 31 runs per innings Test batsman.

I’ve heard so many arguments about the legendary Jacques Kallis. It goes like this: statistically, he is one of the best, but equally, I’ve heard so many talk up the virtues of a player who statistically couldn’t lace Kallis’s boots.

Perception in sport needs to be countered with fact. Media commentators need to constantly challenge those with the biggest opinions on social media when it comes to misinformation being paraded as that from the research gods.

Bavuma struggled in India, the only Test series the Proteas played before England. He averaged 16. Du Plessis, his captain, averaged 23. Given Du Plessis’s comments post the Test, then both he and Bavuma should be back in domestic cricket proving their case by weight of runs.

And this statement is reinforced with Du Plessis’s return of 69 runs in four innings against England at an average of 17.5.

Again, I want to emphasise, this isn’t about promoting Bavuma’s virtues as a Test player or dismissing Du Plessis as a Test player, but it is questioning why in this country it is so easy to accept the mediocrity (in performance) of a white player but there is such condemnation of a black player the moment he doesn’t perform.

Also, to the ignorant who interpreted my tweet as wanting Faf out and Temba in, look a bit beyond your own prejudice and question performance. So few had an issue with Faf being selected and so few had an issue with Temba being dropped. Yet, neither was performing!

Du Plessis, when explaining the team selections, said his players never saw colour. This was manna from heaven for the white brigade on social media who said it was all about merit and performance.

My response to them is, then look at merit and performance instead of looking at colour.


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