Cricket has long been considered a white man’s game. Even the colour of the uniforms points in that direction. However, whilst we were paying attention elsewhere – to politics, movies, music, online games and so forth—black South African cricket has entered a new era.
Promise for the future
The two names most often mentioned in the context of black South African cricket are Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada. Both players deserve the accolades that have been showered upon them in their very young careers.
Bowler Kagiso Rabada is only twenty years old. He became the youngest South African to take ten wickets in a Test Match. Temba Bavuma became the first black South African to score a century. At age 25, he is entering the prime years of his career and will surely reach the century mark many times going forward.
A record falls once and the floodgates open
We have seen that in sports when a barrier is broken, many follow soon in its wake. Times in sprints continue to fall; as they do in international swimming meets. The classic example is the 4-minute barrier in the mile race which many thought would never be broken. Then Roger Bannister broke the barrier and it was like what happened when physicists split the atom – they split it and all kinds of stuff fell out. In similar fashion, Roger Bannister broke the four-minute barrier and soon many runners were breaking it too.
The accomplishments of young Rabada and Bavuma are positive signs for South African cricket. Whenever a large pool of talent becomes available in any field of endeavor, the results are positive: more people participate, standards are raised, and overall performance improves. If a lot of young black South Africans choose cricket as their sport, it will make South African cricket, in the international arena, far better than it has been up until now.
In the long, slow transition from Apartheid to a more inclusive society, the government has its eye on every facet of South African life, including sport. Whilst the sport of cricket cannot be blamed for the number of black South Africans who choose other sports, cricket’s leaders should be much more proactive, openly encouraging blacks to become cricketers.
Maturity beyond His years
Temba Bavuma seems to understand the role he is playing in the history of cricket, South African cricket, and black participation in cricket. He said, “It’s not about me making my debut, it’s about being a role model – an inspiration for other kids…black African kids.” Bavuma understands that he is a living role model for the young men of an entire continent.
We are reminded of the remarks by Charles Barkley, an outspoken black American basketball player, who said that he is not a role model for other kids. Barkley said that, although he is a great basketball player, it is up to parents to raise their kids. Everyone agreed that what Barkley said was true about parents but criticized him saying that, like it or not, a player is in fact a role model and if he’s black he is a role model specifically for black kids.
Much progress in a few years
As recently as 2014, the group Black Cricketers in Unity was criticizing the hierarchical Cricket South Africa (CSA) leadership as not so much discriminating against black cricketers but discounting their potential value. The progress embodied in Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada’s appearance in the Test with England indicates that the message has been received.
Black Cricketers in Unity specifically stated that they were not interested in American style affirmative action in which there are often quotas and some blacks are chosen for positions in all spheres of life as tokens rather than as deserving members of the “team”; they were interested in the kind of affirmative action that sees a black kid as a kid first and if he’s good enough to be on the Test squad, he should be on the Test squad.
Black Cricketers in Unity made the point that in the US it is common for some people to see a lone black as a token even if he or she is eminently qualified for the position they were chosen or hired to do.
As the government is involved in all areas of South African life, the CSA presented to Parliament their plan for the transformation of South African cricket.
In 2014, Rabada was named Player of the Tournament in the international under-19 World Cup. He led the South African squad to victory in the tournament and gave solid performances throughout.
Bavuma has been a top run scorer for years and has centuries in other competitions.
The two future stars face intense pressure. South Africa is still very close to the nation it once was when a black person could not possibly be considered the equal, much less the superior, of a white person. It may take a decade or more to change attitudes and not place blame on a plater’s race if he performs poorly or if the team loses.
As we said, every sport goes through this transitional period. The team leader on offence in American football is the quarterback and even recently there were no black quarterbacks. Since then there have been many and today there are many and few people think they are less qualified for reasons of race. The people who might think so won’t say so out loud
Transitioning for success
With the advent of the era of racial unity in South African cricket—admittedly still a work in progress – we can expect to see better South African cricketers shine in international competitions.