What's wrong with post-apartheid cricket?

What's wrong with post-apartheid cricket?

Post by Stuart Hugh » Sun, 04 Jun 1995 04:00:00

The following, an article and Dr Ali Bacher?s reply to it, and Dr
Booth?s response, appeared in the May 31 1995 issue of Critic (the
Otago University Student Magazine). It is reproduced as it appeared in
Critic, with the permission of Dr Booth. The article originally
appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

[Douglas Booth, a recent traveller to South Africa and formerly of the
Department of Politics at Macquarie University, now teaches sports
history at the School of Physical Education at Otago University. Morris
Morley teaches politics at Macquarie University. Dr Ali Bacher is
managing director of the United Cricket Borad of South Africa.]



***Promises that South African cricket would soon become multi-racial
have proved hollow. Morris Morley and Douglas Booth reveal how the
townships lost their game.***

Nearly a decade after South Africa pledged to introduce blacks to
cricket, the country continues fielding lily-white teams.

In 1986 the South African Cricket Union?s chief executive, Ali Bacher,
assured the world that cricket was no longer a game solely for whites.
A development programme in the townships, he promised, would produce
black Springboks.

Bacher, now employed by the United Cricket Board (UCB), an amalgamation
of the union and its rival anti-apartheid Cricket Board, bandies a
plethora of statistics to illustrate the progress: 20,000 children
introduced to mini-cricket each year; 200 under age cricket teams
playing in 30 townships around the country; new cricket ovals in Soweto
and Alexandra; over $1 million donated by the UCB to help build sports
facilities in the townships, several dozen cricketers on scholarships
to further their education.

Bacher, who has cleverly marketed himself as the personification of
South African cricket, speaks reassuringly of the imminent arrival of
local Brian Laras and Curtly Ambroses. Last year selectors chose eight
blacks in the under-15, five in the under-17 and three in the under-19
national squads. In the words of one Bacher supporter, when our black
cricketers come through the ranks they will come through like avocado
pears and ripen at once.

But while a blooming protea has replaced the Springbok as the emblem of
cricket, there is still good reason to be sceptical about blacks
coming through the ranks and making their mark in either first class
or test cricket - in the medium - or the long term. A new symbol has
not expunged the ghosts of apartheid.

Consider the thorny question of merit. In the 1980s, the Cricket Union
selected blacks to play in representative teams in an attempt to show
its supposed anti-racist credentials. The ICC and the anti-apartheid
movement rejected this tokenistic, window dressing approach. The only
criterion for natural selection was merit; only merit would guard black

But if merit is today?s byword, it is hard to see how blacks will ever
be able to compete as equals while key features of the old apartheid
cricket system continue to operate. The traditional route to success is
still through the private clubs, which remain basically off-limits to
black cricketers. These clubs are the major repositories of coaching
expertise, the places where skills are honed and developed. For the
most part, black cricketers train in inferior conditions and must
travel long distances by bus to grounds in white areas. Often only a
manager accompanies a team to its rendezvous with a white opponent with
much back-up support. So when an under-trained black team eventually
takes the field, it plays in an alien environment with little support.

Conrad Hunte, a West Indian former champion batsman who now works as a
development officer in a project funded by the MCC, has identified a
self-perpetuating cycle of discrimination. Many talented black junior
cricketers show symptoms of white dependency; others see white
officials as unfriendly. Both contribute to black under-performance and
under-representation as white selectors, who already hold low
expectations of development graduates, ignore blacks.

In the absence of equal access and opportunities, the UCB?s policy of
merit selection paradoxically serves to maintain the white privilege
that it supposedly rejects. At the same time, none of the dozen or so
highly talented black players in today?s South Africa, some of whom
have played English country cricket, have been chosen to play
representative cricket. Many observers felt that when incumbent test
wicket-keeper David Richardson lost form last year, he should have been
replaced by the Eastern Cape ?keeper, Kenneth Masikizana, However, the
selectors in their wisdom, overlooked the black Masikizana.

These developments have failed to produce any outcry from formerly
outspoken black officials, who lie trapped in the tension between merit
and development. Given that development is the key to merit, those who
question the latter are forced to confront the superficiality of the
changes within post-apartheid cricket - in the process raising some
embarrassing questions about their own political clout within the

South Africa has a rich tradition of black cricket. British
missionaries introduced Africans to cricket in the Eastern Cape last
century, while immigrants from India brought the game with them.
Cricket became an important part of life and identity in both

But when Ali Bacher?s cricket union launched its development program in
the late 1980s, it targeted townships - Soweto and Alexandra
(Johannesburg), Mamelodi (Pretoria) and Rock lands (Bloemfontein) -
with no cricket history. While the anti-apartheid Cricket Board had
expelled the union from traditional black cricket areas, the Union
selected these townships for another reason. They were the townships
from which black youth dusted the army during the insurrection in the
mid 1980s. The government recognised the need to upgrade these
townships and cricket was part of the strategy.

Why then hasn?t cricket returned to its traditional black homes since
the establishment of the UCB?

One reason is that these areas remain sources of bitterness and
discontent. Former regional officials of the old Cricket Board accuse
their colleagues in the UCB of betraying the struggle, of forcing
unification upon them and of political opportunism. Allegations of the
UCB manipulating development are rife. For example, money ear-marked
for equipment is spent busing black children to international test
matches simply to fill seats. Unification forced black clubs to
amalgamate, ostensibly to strengthen their competitiveness.
Amalgamating tradition is not easy. It takes time to build allegiances
to symbols and to develop working relationships. Nor could the new
clubs absorb all the players. Three clubs with five teams each suddenly
became one club with three teams. This left thousands of black
enthusiasts without cricket homes.

The UCB has built cricket ovals in Alexandra and Soweto. In late 1994,
government ministers, foreign dignitaries, and international sporting
stars attended both openings. British Prime Minister John Major and
West Indian batsman Brian Lara were at Alexandria. Yet not even Ali
Bacher?s choreography could hide black disinterest. More than 3 million
people live in Soweto - less than a thousand watched New Zealand play a
Transvaal Invitation XI to celebrate the opening of the townships first
cricket oval.

Three weeks later, 20,000 mostly black fans watch Pakistan play an
Eastern Province Invitation XI in Alice, a small rural town in the
heartland of traditional black cricket.

The UCB will never have the money to build grounds in each of more than
700 black townships. Even its achievements to date leave a lot to be
desired. One journalist covering the first game at Soweto?s new ground
was singularly unimpressed by what he saw: (It) consists of a strip,
an artificial wicket, a wickedly dodgy outfield, a freshly painted
stand and two sets of nets. The barrenness of the ground is not
relieved by a single tree...

Nor can the UCB expect assistance expect assistance from a government
whose priorities include housing, education, sanitation,
electrification, health and employment needs.

Late last year, the president of the UCB, Krish Mackerdhj, publicly
attacked the ?old regime? attitudes of some South African senior
cricket administrators and officials. Instead of emphasising to their
English and Australian counterparts that a new era in South African
cricket had begun, based on merit selection and non-racism, these
individuals preferred to blame ?politics? for the ?unfortunate? 30 year
?break in play?, and to act on the assumption it was back to ?business
as usual? on the world cricket stage. The target of Mackerdhuj?s anger
was, in no small measure, the ubiquitous managing director of the UCB
(and mastermind of the English rebel tours of South Africa), Ali

While it may not be quite ?business as usual? on the national
cricketing stage, Mackerdhuj?s concerns about the image of South
African cricket being conveyed abroad cannot be divorced from what is
happening at home. Ali Bacher?s township cricket development program
will, no doubt, produce some future black proteas. The harvest is
unlikely to ever be bountiful, but then again, was this ever the aim?



***In response to the above article arguing that cricket is still the
preserve of white privilege in South Africa, Ali Bacher defends the
work of the United Cricket Board.***

The success of the United Cricket Board?s development program cannot at
this stage be judged by the lack of black players in our national

The reason for the lack of these players lies in the past, where
cricket was split on racial lines and whites received the best
facilities, coaching and opportunities.

In those days, the former South African Cricket Board (SACB) was
involved in development projects with limited resources, and the former
South African Cricket Union (SACU) made the mistake in the 1970s of
trying to develop black players from the age of 18 upwards. The SACU
began its first national development program in 1986, where mini
cricket was used to introduce boys under the age of 12 to the game.
Their teachers were taught the basics on a large scale as there were
simply not enough coaches to reach the massive pool of potential

In 1991 a concerted national development for all cricket people was put
in place for the first time.

This background has both its good and bad points. The good has come out
of the extensive growth of cricket, which has spread goodwill and new
opportunities to thousands of youngsters in the disadvantaged areas.
the bad part is that it took so long to happen.

We believe, though, that it is now common cause that the United Cricket
Board of South Africa has in place a national development of
considerable importance.

This was acknowledged at a recent development seminar attended by the
chairman of the International Cricket Council, Sir Clyde Walcott, who
himself had been a cricket development officer in his youth.

Expectations of instant results, such as black players new to cricket
pouring into the national squad overnight, were unrealistic, he said.
It took several generations for cricket to take hold in black
communities in the West Indies, but when it did it transformed not only
the world but the political dispensation of the West Indies. Sir Clyde
warned against over-coaching at a young age and urged that we allow
young black players the chance to develop their natural skills.

And this latter observation brings us to another important facet of the
new face of South African cricket. We have to break the old mould of
selection and coaching practices based broadly of the British system,
and move into the modern international era which demands creativity and
taking risk.

With so many cricketers coming from non-traditional cricketing
backgrounds, we have to be geared to nurture their talent and [not (?)]
throw them into the deep end quickly. Teams like the West Indies, India
and Australia have brought this approach to the game, and all are

The biggest challenge for cricketing nations is to bridge the gap
between top junior cricket and first-class international cricket. South
Africa has embarked on this course with the opening next month of the
Plascon Cricket Academy. We will channel all our best young cricketers
from all communities through this school.

Bridging this gap is of particular concern to us because we have found
that players from disadvantaged communities often lack the confidence
of players coming from a middle-class background. Apartheid was
designed to breed inferiority in black communities, and we still see
the seeds of this planted in young black players. In playing terms, the
number of youngsters from black communities who are playing top junior
cricket is impressive. All provincial and national representative teams
from under-12 to under-19 have development players selected on merit.
In a few years this will manifest itself in the senior national squad.

We are not saying that all development cricket began in 1986, but if
one was to take that year as a benchmark of the start of the
development program involving areas with no or little cricketing
background, then it would be unrealistic to expect black players to
have reached senior international status by now. However if they have
not done so within the next few years, we will have to review our
entire cricketing system.

The United Cricket Board, in terms of the tenet of its constitution,
has a m***obligation to offer cricket to all communities. It has an
enormous task because of the imbalances and neglect of the past, but we
are committed to it.

At present there are full-time development operations in all our 11
provinces. A recent survey shows that players from these initiatives
constitute 25% of those selected for provincial teams from first-class
to under-13.

This is a heartening growth. If this rate of selection-on-merit
continues then soon nearly half the members of all teams from
provincial A to under-13 will have come from the development ranks -
all candidates to play for their country at all levels.


A REPLY TO ALI BACHER by Dr Douglas Booth.

Ali Bacher asks for patience and faith in his pedestrian, stock defence
of the South African United Cricket Board?s development program. Black
cricketers, he comfortingly reassures the world, will graduate into the
national squad. And even Sir Clive (Walcott, chairman of the
International Cricket Council) thinks so!

Bacher ignores every point raised in our critique. His reply reads
like, and probably is, a standard memo to an international glossy

Inadvertently, however, the ?memo? raises two critical questions. Why
did Bacher?s Cricket Union take 15 years to unite with the Cricket
Board and launch a ?concerted national development program?? And how,
precisely, will cricket transform South Africa?s political
dispensation? The long wait came because the racist Cricket Union
rejected the hand of black friendship - twice. Cricket amalgamated,
briefly, in 1977 after white administrators promised blacks equal
playing opportunities and selection based on merit for provincial and
national players. It was a ploy to short circuit the boycott but the
Union would not countenance mixed sports clubs. The Union subsequently
turned to rebel cricket and, buoyed by that success, scorned black

In 1989 black sports leaders begged the Cricket Union to cancel its
proposed English rebel tour and reconsider unification with black
cricket. Bacher rejected the overture. Mass black protests forced the
Cricket Union to cancel the tour just three weeks after it commenced.
Bacher asserts that cricket has spread goodwill and opportunities in
South Africa. It is a hackneyed claim. No one, philosophers,
sociologists, and psychologists included, has ever satisfactorily
explained the mechanism by which sport can unite and integrate divided

Patience and faith are of course the perfect ingredients for South
Africa?s future, sporting and otherwise. They always deliver, in the
fullness of time.