A nation’s best eleven cricketers rarely make the national XI – grudges, quotas, personality clashes and selectorial ‘blind spots’ see to that.
As recently as 10 or 12 years ago one player made the SA national squad for an overseas tour on the basis that a senior and influential administrator was “sick and tired of seeing no Transvaal players in the national team.” So a Transvaal player was picked – a quota pick.
Jake White trots out the same old line during almost every speech he makes: “The best fifteen players do not necessarily make the best team,” he says. So Luke Watson must sit tight and bide his time, waiting for White’s inevitable sacking.
But for all the personal snipes and gripes that affect the course of international selection, probably the worst is ageism. We can just about cope with being discriminated against on the basis of colour, creed, sex or religion because it happens all over the world and we’ve become used to it, but being written off in the prime of your life because somebody, somewhere, has decided you are too old is hard to understand, let alone stomach.
Ever since the autumn of Brian McMillan’s career started looming in about 1995, the national team has been “building for the future.” A dozen years later it is still building for the future! When does the future arrive? Now is the future!
There are two Test series against India and Pakistan to be won and the best chance of winning them is to select the country’s best and in-form players. Regardless of who they are, or how old they are.
Certain players, having been given a chance at international level, need to be honest with themselves and admit that they either weren’t good enough or hungry enough to play at that level. And if they can’t, then the national selectors need to be ruthless enough to do it for them.
But similarly, there are players who should not be written off, especially when their form is as compelling as that shown in recent years by HD Ackerman. He scored 1804 first-class runs at an average of 82 for Leicestershire last English summer and has added another 329 – with two centuries – in the first three Supersport Series games for the Warriors this season and lies third in the national averages. He is 33-years-old.
Top of the averages is Dolphin Doug Watson who has collected 358 runs at an average of 119. He is 33-years-old.
“There is no doubt that I’m playing the best cricket of my life at the moment,” Ackerman said after making 129 against the Eagles in Port Elizabeth. It was an innings which Boeta Dippenaar described as “amongst the best five centuries I’ve ever seen, at any level.”
Ackerman refuses to let the dream of international cricket die. When he was capped nine years ago he gave his national blazer to father Hylton as a replacement for the one he never received in 1970. But as a player, he didn’t have the necessary weapons to cope with an international bowling attack, primarily the knowledge gained by playing against a variety of bowlers in different conditions.
Now he does. And he couldn’t be more out in the cold if he bought a house in Reykjavic and moved to Iceland.
“I still wince a little when I read a newspaper and see myself described as a ‘veteran’ – I don’t feel like a veteran. But it seems like it’s always been the way in South African sport, we regard ourselves as dried up and finished by the time other countries would regard us as reaching our prime,” Ackerman laughed.
So does he still expect a call from Haroon Lorgat? “No, sadly not.” Does he still hope for one? “It’s hard not to think about what it would be like to get another chance at international cricket. I was so young back then, I know so much more now. I’m just so much of a better player. When I see someone like Michael Hussey making his debut at 30, then I really believe I could make a success of it,” Ackerman says.
Sure, let’s build towards the World Cup and think of the future. But the future is also next week and next month. Young and talented players should be learning their game in domestic cricket, not on the international stage. I’m not saying HD Ackerman should be selected for South Africa – I would never embarrass him by doing that.
But I am saying that, on current form, he’s the best batsman in South Africa (Jacques Kallis has no first-class form at all having not played for six months), he holds a South African passport and, as far as I know, he is available for selection. It would be comforting to know that some more important people in the SA Cricket food chain than me know that, too.
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