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South Africa, Sport

Rabada and Bavuma ride the transformation highway in celebrating 25 years of unity in cricket

Rabada and Bavuma ride the transformation highway in celebrating 25 years of unity in cricket

Kagiso Rabada’s record six awards at Cricket South Africa’s annual prize ceremony and Temba Bavuma’s Moment of the Year underscored a fitting celebration of 25 years of unity this week. So much so that the announcement of targets at national level almost slipped under the radar. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of unification of South African cricket and Cricket South Africa (CSA) has gone all out to mark the occasion with a number of celebratory events planned for the upcoming season, the first of which took place on Monday.

A theatrical production told the story of South Africa’s journey through the apartheid years and highlighted a few moments since unification. The celebration was followed by CSA’s annual awards ceremony where Kagiso Rabada made history by picking up six awards, the most for any individual since the ceremony’s inception. If the career paths of his predecessors with the most individual awards – AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla having won five each – the sky is the limit for the youngest ever player to bag the Cricketer of the Year accolade.

But Rabada’s meteoric rise since he set the 2014 Under-19 World Cup alight is hardly a surprise and he was often the shining light in what has been a grim year for South African cricket.

During the silver jubilee year of unification it is also fitting that it is a player of colour who made history. For all the kerfuffle South African cricket fans make about transformation in the sport, Rabada’s rise has been a middle-finger salute to all those who bemoan the advancement of black players in the game and has surely dispelled the myth that black players “aren’t interested” or “aren’t good enough” to play at elite level.

The growing success of transformation in cricket was underscored by Temba Bavuma who won the “So Good” moment of the year award after he became the first black African to score a Test century for the Proteas.

No can bemoan that all these awards were handed on anything but merit and they only added to the celebration of 25 years of unity. However, in between all the razzmatazz, Cricket SA made another announcement: the national team will adopt “targets”. The exact targets are still to be determined, but the governing body wants these to be “realistic and sustainable”.

These targets are perhaps nothing but a formality designed to appease Fikile Mbalula, South Africa’s Minister of Sport and Recreation, who earlier this year banned CSA from bidding or hosting any major events for “failure to transform”.

It is understood that South Africa could very well host the 2018 ICC World T20, the additional tournament that has been bolted onto the schedule after the success of the recent tournament in India, but in order to do so, they will need the minister’s approval – and thus the decision to introduce targets.

Without even trying, South Africa regularly fields at least one black African player across all formats and if both Rabada and Bavuma remain fit and in form, they could realistically be fielding two black African players in Tests as they have done recently.

Rabada is, without a doubt, South African cricket’s greatest asset and should be treated as such. Never in recent memory, if ever before in South Africa’s history, has a 20-year-old led the attack with such maturity, control and aggression. Rabada is wise beyond his years, both on the field and off it, but everyone looking after this young man’s well-being needs to ensure that he does not become another “what could have been” case.

Rabada suffers from scoliosis, a condition which could be worsened by a stress fracture of the back – an injury which has become far too common for young fast bowlers in recent years – and while Cricket SA does have a team of scientists who monitor him carefully, these targets could become problematic if the committee agrees that the number of black Africans who should play at Test level is two. It would mean that Rabada has to play every Test, and with a jam-packed season coming up (South Africa will play 15 Tests between now and July 2017), rest might not be a luxury afforded to South Africa’s brightest diamond.

This then begs the question of whether the Minister of Sport actually understands what is required to make it to the top of international cricket and just how much work is being put in behind the scenes to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to do so. When Cricket SA was hauled in front of the parliamentary committee following their failure at the World Cup last year, they were at pains to explain just how much investment is required to become an international cricketer – with time, money, facilities and coaching all being key factors. When Cricket SA said that they try to bridge this gap by offering bursaries to young talent from disadvantaged areas, they were accused of pilfering from the rural areas.

Add to that Mbalula’s rather crass Tweet from Tuesday night, which read: “Congratulations! kagiso Rabada, I sincerely believe you not gonna disappear after being used like all others who came bfo” [sic]. The irony of the situation is quite obviously lost on the minister.

If Cricket SA hopes to achieve a “sustainable and realistic agreement” for their targets at national level, this is the kind of insular thinking they will have to fight against.

Nobody can deny that the number of black African players coming through at Test level is cringeworthy. But is this down to lack of will, a lack of effort or simply because cricket’s very core is inherently elitist, making it very difficult for those from a disadvantaged background to climb up its ranks? And, if it is so exclusive, what is being done to break down those barriers?

A special feature by the Daily Maverick and Chronicle to be realised next week will answer just that. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Temba Bavuma (left) and Kagiso Rabada celebrate the wicket of England’s Nick Compton (not in picture) during the second cricket test match in Cape Town, South Africa, January 2, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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