Who would have taken odds before the tour to Australia on that headline appearing during the trip? Now it’s very much on the cards.
Selection convenor Haroon Lorgat has spent more time than he would have liked overcoming his “disappointment” at the recent story from Adelaide claiming that Jacques Rudolph had been dropped from the third match of the VB Series to assuage a political desire for a quota of four black players, but there are more important things on his mind. Like the form of captain Graeme Smith.
“That story was so disappointing and I can’t for the life of me, imagine where it came from. I haven’t got the foggiest idea,” Lorgat said. “Racial targets or quotas haven’t been discussed in a single selection meeting, either when I was there or on the telephone since I returned to South Africa.”
“It was very unfortunate that Jacques missed out on that game but there were only cricket reasons behind the selection. I actually voted to play him but, understandably, the captain and coach were unsure how Johan van der Wath would play as a bowler so soon after arriving in Australia so they wanted to play the extra bowler as insurance,” Lorgat said.
Race/quota/politics stories can be delicate matters in South African sport but, this time at least, Lorgat required no subtle steering of the issue into a gap in the covers and taking a quick single to change the subject. It was a flat-batted crunch through the covers – dismissed. “It’s just nonsense,” he said.
Rather more delicate an issue is the form of Smith and what to do about it. Can the skipper be rested? The decision, if taken, would run the risk of ending the captain’s career, of course, because he would almost certainly suffer an instant heart attack. But Lorgat knows that…and he knows how to box clever around the subject. Stand by for a couple of diplomatically taken quick singles.
“I’d like to rest Graeme, yes,” he says, acutely aware of the sight and sound of raising eyebrows. “But he’s not the only one. I’m a little worried about Polly, too. I’ve always been an advocate of the rest and rotation system. You may remember it was me that made sure Jacques Kallis, Shaun, Makhaya and Graeme all took a breather during the Zimbabwe series,” Lorgat says.
Well played, sir. Neatly done. Let’s try again. Smith is painfully short of runs – what is your view on the captain being ‘rested’ for reasons of form rather than ‘rest’.
“If we had made a winning start to the VB Series then Graeme would have rested from a game already,” he says, flicking the question through square leg and scampering to the non-striker’s end.
Another delivery, much the same as the previous one.
“Well, these are all must-win games, and you simply have to pick your strongest XI for ‘must-win’ games. That’s why Polly has played all of them. And at the moment Graeme is still a part of our strongest XI,” Lorgat says, taking a leg bye.
The man is good – very good. Time for a different delivery. A doosra. Who would captain the side if Smith was rested? Vice-captain, Jacques Kallis, is at home, injured. Ha! Play that one.
“Ashwell is the new vice-captain,” says Lorgat, smashing the delivery back over the bowler’s head. “Shaun would do anything for the team, of course, but he really doesn’t need the vice-captaincy. So we chose Ashwell for the position, it’s time to usher in the next level of leadership.”
He’s had plenty of captaincy experience. He’s had a good tour. Unfortunately, like Smith, he’s also out of touch at the moment. But he might just become his country’s first black captain, a description that will make his peers cheer but him cringe. Prince has never hid his distaste for cricketers being described by their skin colour. A return to form, of course, would limit talk of that.
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