The four-day season is almost done, and one of South African cricket’s great deficiencies persists: there are just no black African batsmen pressing for Test honours, laments RYAN VREDE.
This month Temba Bavuma was announced as the Proteas white-ball captain, an appointment that was immensely significant given that he is the first black African to hold the position.
Bavuma is also the only black African batsman to establish himself in the Test side since isolation. He has become known for his grit, but his place has constantly been under scrutiny. His record – 2,097 runs in 73 innings at an average of 32.26 with just one century – is constantly cited as indicative of his mediocrity. There are also never a shortage of social-media critics who attribute his ongoing selection to the quotas in place.
As it stands, the Proteas have to pick an average of three black African players and three coloured or Indian players in a match in the XI over the course of a season.
In late 2020, it appeared the quota of black players would be increased to seven, until the CSA interim board opted to keep the current quotas in place.
In a Test context, the Proteas have largely met that quota by selecting Bavuma and two black bowlers, the ever-present being Kagiso Rabada, who is one of the game’s best.
Indeed there are a clutch of gifted black bowlers emerging, many of whom could establish themselves in the Test side on merit in the coming years. Yet, there are no black African batsmen advancing their cause.
Seven matches into the 2020-21 domestic four-day competition (the final starts on Thursday), there is only one black African batsman in the top 20 (Khaya Zondo in 16th position) run-scorers. This has been a disconcerting reality for the duration of the competition’s history.
In the last 10 seasons (this one included) this has been the black African representation in the top-20 batters in four-day domestic cricket:
2020-21 – 1 black African in the top 20
Khaya Zondo in 16th with 324 runs at an average of 40.50
2019-20 – 0 black Africans in the top 20
Highest ranked was Wandile Makwetu at 23rd
2018-19 – 3 black Africans in the top 20
Sinethemba Qeshile ranked 5th with 735 runs at an average of 52.50, Grant Mokoena ranked 16th with 524 runs at 29.11 and Sibonelo Makhanya in 18th with 503 runs at 31.43
2017-18 – 1 black African in the top 20
Omphile Ramela ranked 12th with 596 at an average of 35.05
2016-17 – 3 black Africans in the top 20
Khaya Zondo ranked 4th with 740 runs at an average of 67.27, Lesiba Ngoepe in 15th with 503 runs at 33.53 and Aviwe Mgijima in 20th with 431 runs at 28.73
2015-16 – 1 black African in the top 20
Omphile Ramela ranked 9th with 592 runs at an average of 42.28
2014-15 – 2 black Africans in the top 20
Omphile Ramela ranked 5th with 724 runs at an average of 48.26 and Temba Bavuma in 14th with 555 runs at 69.37
2013-14 – 2 black Africans in the top 20
Temba Bavuma ranked 6th with 714 runs at 39.66 and Khaya Zondo at 13th with 541 runs at 38.64
2012-13 – 1 black African in the top 20
Temba Bavuma ranked 5th with 537 runs at an average of 31.58
2011-12 – 1 black African in the top 20
Temba Bavuma ranked 11th with 637 runs at an average of 53.08
Drill down further and you find black African batters appearing in the top five just four times in 10 seasons, and appearing just six times in the top 10 in the last decade.
The statistics tell the tale of immense struggle for black African batsmen to successfully and consistently negotiate the challenges of first-class cricket. In light of these statistics, it is no surprise that Bavuma remains the only black African batsman to have established himself in the Test side.
Sadly, there was little in the recently held CSA Cubs Week, the country’s elite provincial U19 tournament, to suggest the next generation of black African batsmen will arrest this trend.
The leading black African run-scorer in the tournament got 156 runs at an average of 52. The next four got 259 runs combined.
By way of comparison, the tournament’s leading white run-scorer got 354 runs, just 58 runs less than the top-five black African batters combined. The top-five white batsmen at the tournament got 1,497 runs combined, compared to the collective tally of 412 of the black African top five.
I wish the next part of this piece provided the answers to why this is, and a roadmap to turning things around. It doesn’t. I simply don’t know, but can make educated guesses.
As a start, I would guess that it has much to do with the cost of batting gear compared to what is required for bowlers – essentially just a pair of spikes.
I’d also suggest the lack of adequate facilities and coaching resources in townships contribute significantly. The foundational elements of batting are more easily learned and retained when taught by experienced, astute coaches, who have the time to invest in their students. This is seldom the case in townships.
Furthermore, those black African batters who are recruited to better-resourced schools through talented-identification programmes are in the minority. The vast majority of young black African batters won’t get those types of opportunities and will instead have to rely on other pathways to professional cricket. Yet, even those that do benefit from such opportunities are already years behind in their development.
Most of those who find the aforementioned pathways fruitful are faced with the reality that their development hasn’t kept pace with their teammates who’ve benefited from their formative years being spent in resource-rich environments. And professional cricket, even at domestic level, is unforgiving for those who need to learn foundational aspects of their craft.
What is certain is that Cricket South Africa doesn’t have a clue how to successfully fix this issue. If it did, one would have seen the fruits of such a plan by now.
Instead, evidenced in part by the decade of chronic mediocrity (it would have been more than that had I broadened the scope of my investigation), they have failed to implement any plans or build any structures at grassroots level that would help solve this deeply rooted problem in our game.
Hope is not a legitimate strategy. Yet, it is exactly the one CSA has adopted.