Bias and prejudice same as ever

The South African national cricket team has never been picked solely on merit – and it still isn’t. If it was, Martin van Jaarsveld would have played at least 30 Tests by now, possibly more.

Cricket selection should be easier than in most sports given its reliance on statistics. A soccer player, for example, isn’t weighed down by pub talk of his low tackle count or goals per game whereas a batsman with an average of less than 35 is frequently given looks normally reserved for transsexual cross-dressers.

But as compelling an argument as statistics can make, they are are never good enough by themselves. As Van Jaarsveld. For the last three years he has scored more runs, with more hundreds, at a higher average, than anyone else in first class cricket.

When there wasn’t room in the national team he was, eventually, given a place in the ‘A’ side. Against the third best team in the world (Australia ‘A’) he scored three consecutive hundreds. Not bad. Not bad at all.

But it was at that stage of his career that ‘Jarra’ realised there was a problem. When the time came to chat to, and socialise with, the ‘right’ people, he couldn’t do it. At least, he didn’t want to. As a consequence the ‘right’ people didn’t get to know him and he featured less than all his colleagues and rivals in newspaper features and selection meetings.

There was little talk of what a great ‘team man’ he was, or what a great sense of humour he had. No body seemed to know whether he was a fighter or just an efficient plunderer of mediocre, provincial bowling (who happened to get lucky against Australia ‘A’!)

In short, there was nothing ‘extra’ about Martin van Jaarsveld, no ‘added value’. At least, that was the perception. He didn’t dress snappily, didn’t have a dramatic childhood story, a famous girlfriend, a fast car…a bad disciplinary record. Anything to endear himself. Instead, he just scored runs. Lots of them.

When he finally scored enough of them to kick the door down to the national team, he played two Tests against Bangladesh on a hiding to nothing and then raced down the N1 at an hours notice to replace Herschelle Gibbs against Sri Lanka. He was batting within two hours of getting the call-up. No wonder he didn’t last long.

In the one-day team he was treated even worse. As a specialist top-order batsman in seven matches in the NatWest Series in England, he batted at number six twice. He batted at number seven, twice. And even at number eight. Of course, Jarra didn’t complain.

Occasionally good people like Martin van Jaarsveld need someone to shout their name for them because they’re not very good at doing it themselves – or shmoozing with the important suits at cocktail parties.

As I have yet to receive an invitation to an important cocktail party, allow me to try the former: “MARTIN VAN JAARSVELD!!!”


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