JOHANNESBURG – Khaya Zondo told the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings that he lost all respect for AB de Villiers, after De Villiers, then Proteas captain, had told him why he wouldn’t be playing in the final One-Day International against India in Mumbai in 2015.
Zondo presented his testimony to the Office of the Transformation Ombudsman privately on 22 July and requested it be made public on Friday, a day after Hussein Manack testified about the incident, which caused enormous controversy in South African cricket.
That affair has been a central topic in the SJN hearings in the last few weeks.
Zondo’s non-selection in that match, played in October of that year, was the catalyst for a dramatic split along racial lines in the national team. A group of black players wrote a letter to Cricket SA’s Board at the time, signing it ‘#BibsMustFall’ stating that they were tired of only being viewed as good enough to be squad members but not to start matches for the Proteas.
“The captain (de Villiers) called me over to the side, away from the rest of the team and mentioned to me he was the one who felt I should not play. He was trying to explain himself and he was taking full responsibility for the decision,” Zondo read from his prepared submission to the Transformation Ombud, Adv. Dumisa Ntsebeza.
“I remember in the moment of him explaining himself to me, losing all respect for him as a captain, and as someone I looked up to as a cricketing hero of mine because I could not believe this guy was trying to justify himself to me, and it came across as if I should accept this decision because the decision came from him.”
David Miller, who’d been out of form in that series, and who the team management had sought to help by moving him up from the middle order to open the batting in the fourth match of the series, was the player that Zondo was going to replace. Then JP Duminy got injured, and the selectors felt a ‘like for like’ replacement - i.e. a middle order batsmen who could bowl a bit of spin - might be needed. They chose Dean Elgar, who had just arrived in India at the time, to be part of the SA Test side for a subsequent series with India. However, as Manack testified on Thursday, De Villiers was adamant that Miller couldn’t be dropped because of his experience, while Elgar also provided the extra spin option.
That left Zondo sidelined, even as Manack, the selector chosen to tour with the Proteas, had insisted, with backing from the selectors at home, that Zondo should play. De Villiers was so upset that he called then CSA CEO, Haroon Lorgat, but Lorgat left the final decision to Manack and the selectors.
Manack admitted on Thursday that he succumbed to De Villiers’ demands, believing that De Villiers may refuse to play in the final ODI and Manack was concerned about the fallout if that happened in India where De Villiers is extremely popular.
“It did not make sense to me for a captain to take full responsibility for a selection decision when there are people employed to do that job. It's the convenor’s decision to make the final selection,” Zondo told the SJN.
“Personally I felt that no matter what (de Villiers) said there was no justification for the decision that was taken and he had accepted responsibility for it. So something was not right and there was more to it than I was being told.”
“I remember looking at him and thinking, does this guy really think I had no sense of understanding or intelligence?’ Or maybe he thinks because I would ask him for batting tips, he thinks that I am a fan and that whatever he says I will naively accept because of who he is.”
Zondo said he “switched off mentally for the rest of the day,” and “detached” himself “from the team because it was clear (he) was not wanted."
The whole saga affected him for the rest of that season, and he had special praise for two players, who he did not name, and the former Dolphins coach and Proteas all-rounder, Lance Klusener, who provided support.
Zondo added that he felt the fallout from that controversy may still be playing a role in his failure to thusfar add to the five One-Day matches he has played for the national team.
“It feels like things are constantly being done and it all feels like it stems from 2015. Again this year I performed in the season, now I can’t even get into the South African A side, how?
“They complain about not having black batsmen. I’m a black batsman who scored two centuries (last) season, but they can’t seem to involve (me). No other black batsman scored a century this year. My question is, what is it about me that they have such a big issue?”
“The performances are not enough. Maybe it's because I’m not tall enough. There are all sorts of reasons that are put, and things keep being done, over and over and over. It’s almost like they want to say, ‘ya, when his career is over, they can say, ‘see he only played five games, he was never good enough.’”
The SJN hearings will resume on August 23.