SJN Hearings: Roger Telemachus wanted to leave 2007 World Cup after being denied opportunity to play
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JOHANNESBURG – Former International fast bowler Roger Telemachus told the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings that he nearly came to blows with former Proteas coach Mickey Arthur during the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the West Indies.
Telemachus, who played 37 One-Day and three T20 Internationals, over the course of an international career that spanned, nine years, said the incident with Arthur happened before South Africa’s semifinal with Australia.
The incident was the culmination of a bitterly disappointing and difficult period for Telemachus, who earlier in that tournament had informed Arthur, the side’s captain, Graeme Smith and the team manager, Goolam Rajah, that he wanted to leave the competition and return to South Africa early.
In his testimony to the commission, chaired by ombudsman, Adv. Dumisa Ntsebeza, Telemachus said Arthur had informed him a week before the semifinal that he stood a chance of playing due to an injury to one of the other fast bowlers.
“But before that, Makahaya Ntini was out of form and he hadn’t played until the semifinal. The day before the semifinal, (the team management) apparently got an email from Cricket SA that the ANC are putting pressure on them, because there was not a black African cricketer in the team. So that is the reason that coach came up to me and said ‘look, sorry bud, this is the story, unfortunately you can’t play, this is the reason.’ He showed me the mail and (said) ‘Makhaya has to play.’”
Telemachus said he “challenged” Arthur by asking him why the two couldn’t play together in the same starting eleven. “Yet again, no answers, nothing happened. I was left out. I had called my family and said I was going to play, told them to watch out for me, I’m definitely playing. And the day before the semifinal I was told ‘listen here you can’t play, this is the reason, Makhaya has to play.’ I almost got physical with that coach, luckily the assistant coach had to stop me. I was furious, hurt, and I left it there, and I just left the room.”
As it turned out, neither Telemachus nor Ntini played that match, with the attack made up of Shaun Pollock, Andrew Hall, Charl Langeveldt and Andre Nel. South Africa lost badly after failing with the bat.
Telemachus told the hearing that he’d wanted to leave the tournament, because he was upset at some of the selection strategies, particularly as they pertained to group matches at that event.
South Africa were in the same group as Australia, Scotland and the Netherlands, with the match against the Australians effectively deciding who would finish atop the group. Telemachus said he’d met with Arthur and Smith to make a case for him and the other members of the squad, who weren’t regarded as automatic starting players, to play in the two easier games, because SA had ostensibly, qualified for the Super Eight phase of the competition that year.
“They told me there wouldn’t be changes, because they wanted to stick with a winning team and continue the momentum.”
“They just refused to give me an opportunity to play in those games. I still respected them when they asked me to do my fitness and the extra bowling in the nets. I continued with that but eventually I got a bit sick with the coach and captain and I basically I told them, before I went to the team manager, that listen here, ‘I’m prepared to go home, I can see I’m not welcome here, I’m not happy, I already told my family I was coming home.’ I was prepared to pay for my own ticket.”
Telemachus said the team manager at the time, the late Goolam Rajah, said he had to stay.
“Basically told me I can’t. I know why he said so, because if I had to leave, Cricket SA would have been in big trouble – just to see one of their players, arrive back in SA by himself at his own cost, that would have been a disaster.”
It is the second time the hearings have heard that a black player wanted to leave a South African squad at the World Cup. Earlier this week, Omar Henry testified how he had wanted to leave the 1992 tournament after an argument with then captain Kepler Wessels over selection.
The SJN project was established last year after a call by Lungi Ngidi for the Proteas to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, exposed an undercurrent of racism within South African cricket.
On Friday, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Ethy Mbhalati are scheduled to testify.