Remember Khaya Zondo? Well, here’s a quick reminder…
Zondo was the man who was left out of the Proteas ODI side in a series decider against India in Mumbai in October 2015.
The Dolphins right-hander had been the reserve batsman in the squad, and JP Duminy’s hand injury meant that there was a gap available in the middle-order.
But instead of handing Zondo his debut, the Proteas selectors flew up Test opener Dean Elgar from South Africa instead and installed him in the ODI team.
It sparked the now infamous #DrinksCarriersMustFall saga where a group of black African cricketers penned a letter voicing their unhappiness about not getting regular playing opportunities when they are picked in the Proteas squad.
It happened to Aaron Phangiso before – he was the only player who didn’t get a game at the 2015 Cricket World Cup.
Since then, the emergence of Kagiso Rabada and Temba Bavuma has been a welcome boost with regards to transformation – and performance – of the Proteas.
Cricket South Africa have made significant strides over the last few years in that regard, and may soon be given the all clear again to bid to host international events following the suspension imposed by the Minister of Sport for their previously poor transformation scorecards.
But that doesn’t mean that CSA, and the cricket fraternity in general, should just pat themselves on the back and think everything is perfect.
Transformation is a vital process for all South African sporting codes to embrace to address the imbalances of the past, by providing opportunities and guidance to players of colour when they show potential and produce the necessary performances that warrant selection.
And when it comes to black African cricketers at the highest level, it shouldn’t end with Bavuma and Rabada.
That is why Zondo should come into the frame for the England Test tour. As he did when he was first selected in the ODI squad in 2015, he has put the numbers on the board in the past season’s Sunfoil Series.
Zondo topped the overall batting averages with 67.27 as he scored 740 runs in 15 innings. Only three other batsmen made more – Colin Ackermann (883 runs in 17 innings at an average of 51.94), Vaughan van Jaarsveld (799 in 15 innings at 53.26) and Theunis de Bruyn (751 in 14 innings at 57.76).
Warriors star Ackermann – who recently signed a Kolpak deal with Leicestershire – scored three hundreds compared to the others’ two each, while Zondo got the most 50s with five.
The Proteas may have moved up to a handy No 2 position in the ICC rankings after winning the New Zealand Test series 1-0, but their batting problems need to be addressed urgently if they hope to take revenge against England in a few months’ time.
The struggles of Stephen Cook at the top of the order and JP Duminy at No 4 have been well documented, and the Proteas can’t continue to rely on Quinton de Kock to rescue them every time.
But if Cook and Duminy are to get the chop for England – Cook already had to make way for De Bruyn in the Hamilton Test – then Zondo should be the next-in-line.
Yes, his first-class average of 31.19 isn’t that flash, but Bavuma didn’t have a much higher average than that when he first came into the Proteas line-up either.
Zondo has graduated into the captaincy at the Dolphins for the Momentum One-Day Cup in recent weeks, and they made a great start to the tournament before fading to just miss out on a playoff spot.
He seems to have that bit of steel and temperament that’s required for Test cricket, just like Bavuma.
Of course, De Bruyn is in the side already, although the Proteas should not do another Stiaan van Zyl and retain De Bruyn as an opener.
He needs to compete with Zondo for a middle-order spot, with the Titans’ Aiden Markram the domestic opener with the best record in the Sunfoil Series this season.
The tall 22-year-old Titans right-hander scored 565 runs in 11 innings, at an average of 51.36, placing him 10th on the overall run-scorers’ list despite playing in only seven out of 10 matches.
Perhaps Cricket South Africa or their agents could arrange short county stints for Zondo, De Bruyn and Markram to get up to speed with English conditions ahead of the Test series.
But the situation also gives a chance for the Proteas selectors to make things right with Zondo by handing him a deserved opportunity…