JOHANNESBURG – Ashwell Prince, told the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings, that there never was a unified South African team during his international career, despite South Africa having some of its most historic success in that period.
Prince played 66 Tests in an international career that spanned a decade, and was a pivotal figure in the batting order that saw the Proteas win Test series’s in England and Australia in 2008, although he played no part in the latter owing to an injury. He also appeared in 49 ODIs for the Proteas and was part of the World Cup squad in 2007, that as testimony heard earlier by the SJN, was amongst the most disjointed groups ever to represent the country at a World Cup.
As historic as some of the achievements of the side during his period in it – especially in the Test arena – Prince said he never felt completely bonded with many of his white teammates. “You’re playing for your national team, you’re supposed to be living your dream, it was anything but. It was an absolute nightmare,” Prince, testified to the SJN.
Prince felt distanced from the team from the beginning of his Test career in 2002. “(Being in the national team) was a lonely place. A person knows when a person is welcome and you know when you are not welcome.”
Prince pointed to the aftermath of a team meeting following the 2007 World Cup tournament, that destroyed his trust in the South African system and of his fellow teammates. At what was supposed to be a ‘clear the air’ meeting involving, players coaches and some senior Cricket SA officials following that tournament, in which there was plenty of acrimony between the players, one white player according to Prince said the reason for South Africa’s failure was the “quota system”.
That player, who Prince didn’t name, was backed by others. “Basically, what was said was that the black players, coloured players, the Indian players, the non-white players, they were the problem in our cricket.”
Prince said that at the meeting he, Makhaya Ntini and Herschelle Gibbs, said that if players felt so strongly that the quota system was hindering the national side, and that black players weren’t good enough, then the system should be scrapped. “We believed we deserved to be in that team, we were prepared to go toe to toe with any player of any colour to prove our worth to play for the national team.
“We said: ‘If you think the team lost because of quotas, then scrap the quota system. We were firm believers that we were good enough to be in the team, we believed we were better than some white players. If anyone didn’t think so, we wanted them to tell us to our face.”
Details of the meeting were subsequently leaked to a Sunday newspaper, with Prince telling the SJN, he and the other players’ sentiments had been twisted. “It was an attempt to push a narrative in the media that suits white people. And then wanting to drive that narrative by using black players in the team – that it is Ntini, Gibbs and Prince that are saying these things.”
Prince, at the time the president of the players union, the SA Cricketers Association, said he felt betrayed, and made clear his thoughts to the then CEO of Saca, Tony Irish. Prince subsequently also resigned as president of Saca.
“I didn’t care if I played another game for the country or not. For me, that was not a team, because that was the kind of environment we played in – we were never one, never,” Prince remarked.
Prince later told the SJN, that “sadly” the best playing days of his career came for English county, Lancashire, where he felt genuinely appreciated.
“You think you’re playing for your country, that you’re living a dream, but it was no dream.”
“For me it was a war, it was a war to win for the oppressed people of this country. I couldn’t care if my teammates respected me, if people didn’t want to play with me. It was to prove what we can do, what we are capable of, with whatever obstacles were put in our way. As far as team, there was no team.”