Somewhat unexpectedly, England have just completed a thumping win over South Africa in the First Test in Durban. A victory away from home against the number one side in the world is nothing to be sneezed at, and great credit should go to Alistair Cook’s men. However the signs are clear that this South African side have crested the wave and are now showing signs of decline.
These things happen, of course. Every team goes through peaks and troughs. And South Africa’s problems are multiple. Hashim Amla looks burdened by the captaincy and is in a poor run with the bat. AB de Villiers has played the First Test keeping wicket, which he is on record as being unahppy about due to the pressures on his workload. Indeed, a story came out during the match that AB was considering retiring from Test cricket to concentrate on the shorter forms of the game. He offered a half-hearted denial of this which has only increased speculation. To lose this generations greatest batsman from Tests would be a tragedy.
A problem unique to the African teams and South Africa in particular is the issue of their transformation guidelines, which suggest a certain number of players of colour should be in every Test squad. This requires the selection committee and captain to walk a delicate tightrope to ensure this criteria is being filled. The controversy was first raised in the World Cup when Vernon Philander was returned to the team for the semi-final directly against the wishes of De Villiers, which caused a huge rift between captain and management.
Quite simply this issue means that the South Africans are unable to pick their best side. Quinten De Kock should be a shoo-in for the 2nd Test, to free De Villiers of wicketkeeping duties and to shore up a fragile middle order. This would mean a batsman of colour would probably be sacrificed to fit him in – Duminy or Bavuma most likely. Which would take the number of players of colour below the guidelines. It’s an almost impossible balancing act.
I obviously understand the desire to have more players of colour in the South African team to help improve racial harmony in a sometimes unsettled country. But this wish is now coming at the detriment of the quality of the makeup of the side, which is regrettable. Surely any team should be able to pick their best eleven regardless of colour or creed without falling foul of criticism.