Cricket South Africa officials have been lining up to deny there was any interference in the selection of the Proteas team ahead of the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand.
Observers were surprised when Vernon Philander, returning from injury, was selected ahead of Kyle Abbott, who had been in good form in Philander’s absence.
Several websites have quoted unnamed sources as saying the selectors were instructed to include four players of colour. But officials have been quick to respond.
CSA president Chris Nenzani said: ‘I have not in the past interfered with the selection of the team and I do not intend to do so in the future. We have always emphasised that national team selection must be on merit.’
CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat said: ‘There was and is no political interference in our selections. I’ve never heard any nonsense like that in my entire tenure as team administrator. I was at the World Cup, I was in the vicinity of the team and there was absolutely no interference from the minister.’
Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula was quick to respond himself. ‘The team selection has got nothing to do with the minister and the minister had no space to make such calls of who must and must not be selected. I support all the boys, those who were selected and not selected and those who were not given an opportunity,’ he said.
On his return from Australia, the Proteas’ head coach Russell Domingo defended the selection of Philander, saying: ‘Vern was fit to play. He has been a champion bowler in all formats. When there’s something in the wicket, Vern is one of the best at exploiting those kind of conditions.’
Convener of selectors Andrew Hudson was quoted as saying: ‘We have to remember, Vernon has also performed for us over the years, and I think we were hoping that in New Zealand conditions he would have nipped it around a bit and do some damage. I also think that he gives us an extra batting option at number eight, which helps us with our tail.’
Despite CSA‘s insistence that it had not interfered in national team selections, there is a precedent.
In 2001, the then United Cricket Board president, Percy Sonn, personally overruled the selection of Northern Transvaal left-handed batsman Jacques Rudolph in the Test team to play Australia and demanded that he be replaced by Boland‘s Justin Ontong. In 2008 Charl Langeveldt withdrew from the Proteas touring team to India after he replaced Andre Nel, saying he did not believe selection was based on merit.