The `spin' about Streak and Van Jaarsveld

Many people fail to understand that one of the strong factors that made Heath Streak to return to the fold was the love of his land, ironically the focal point of opposition to Robert Mugabe's undemocratic regime.

N. U. ABILASH

Back in the fold... the exile is over for Heath Streak.-

UNDER cricket's Southern African skies, in the post Kevin Pietersen era, beleaguered white cultural nationalism is increasingly finding a voice through the triumphal note in the South African and the conservative sections of the English media. Under existing circumstances, it is only a matter of time before people, who interpreted Pietersen's amazing run of scores in the recent one-day series between South Africa and England as a resounding blow to the policies of the predominantly non-white administrators of South African cricket, subsume two recent events — the return of former Zimbabwe captain into the team's ranks from his status as a rebel and the permanent flight of South African batsman Martin van Jaarsveld from South Africa to seek a career in English county cricket — to strengthen their worldview.

What this means in concrete terms is that the process of reconciliation between the Streak-led rebels and the establishment (juxtaposed against the ICC Report on Racism in Zimbabwe cricket which went completely against the rebels if one were to believe reports) would be increasingly highlighted as a victory for `cricket' over the nexus of politicians and administrators (such a view has already emanated from a Fleet Street broadsheet). Substitute the ICC Report on Racism in Zimbabwe Cricket with the South African Transformation Charter. Replace the unequivocal triumphalism in describing Pietersen's success with one tinged at its edges by the sadness of having permanently lost Van Jaarsveld to international cricket. And we are likely to have before us the interpretation of 30-year-old Van Jaarsveld's decision to sign as a Kolpak player for Kent County Cricket Club.

In both the Streak and Van Jaarsveld cases, such a view would be a gross distortion of reality. In l'affaire Streak, neither did the ICC Report completely echo the voice of Zimbabwe Cricket Union (now renamed Zimbabwe Cricket) administrators — all sympathisers of the undemocratic Robert Mugabe regime — as it was claimed and nor have Streak and the rebels been successful in their immediate demand at the time of their split last April and right through last month's reconciliation process — that Max Ebrahim and Steve Mangongo, who have absolutely no experience whatsoever in cricket, be replaced as selectors. There are reports that Ebrahim may have to step down as part of a deal struck by Zimbabwe Cricket Managing Director Ozias Bvute with the rebels (with the exemption of spinner Ray Price and batsman Grant Flower who have migrated to county cricket) so as to bring back the sponsors who have deserted Zimbabwe cricket. But, until this happens one has to interpret the reconciliation as a complete capitulation of the rebel players, which by extension means a defeat for `cricket'.

Bye bye South Africa. Martin van Jaarsveld has decided to pursue his career in English county cricket.-

The 73-page ICC Report, published by the ICC last October based on the inquiry conducted by India's Solicitor General Goolam Vahanvati and South African High Court Judge Steven Majiedt, no doubt establishes that the complete breakdown in communication between the rebels and the administrators could not be attributed to institutional racism (widely reported) as the ZCU policies for the integration of cricket in Zimbabwe are based on sound principles operating in other parts of the world in sport and in other walks of life (not so widely reported). However, what went mostly unreported was that the Report made specific recommendations to change the work ethic in the ZCU, including changing the autocratic functioning of some ZCU directors. One of the recommendations went thus: "The policy of integration should be implemented with tact and restraint rather than in an aggressive or confrontational manner and there should be uniformity in the approach of all members of the ZCU Board in this regard." Now, call that anything but an ICC sell out to ZCU.

Many people fail to understand that one of the strong factors that made Streak to return to the fold was the love of his land, ironically the focal point of opposition to Mugabe's undemocratic regime from the late 1990s when he started out a forcible land reform programme as opposed to one through legislation. Streak, who comes from a family which owns a ranch in Bulawayo and who played a leading role in Warwickshire's title win last summer, was quoted in The Observer last November as saying, "I would like my children to grow up in Zimbabwe just as I did, loving whatever is grown on our land. My full-time commitment is to cricket in Zimbabwe, my country, and not to county cricket." Very clearly, what this means is that `politics' works to a large extent behind what is perceived as a `pure' cricketing reason.

Streak deserves credit. At a time when the white psyche is unable to come to terms with affirmative action implemented democratically in post-apartheid South Africa, here is a white Zimbabwean who is in an affirmatory relationship with his nation, where the process of integration is taking place in an authoritarian manner. (Streak evokes strong memories of the few educated non-white South Africans who were living in England during apartheid years, organising politically there against a draconian system yet belonging physically, emotionally, intellectually and financially to their beloved homeland and the struggle for justice going on there.) "Nostalgia of a farmer is magical in that it associates land to nation by extension," said Bessie Head, the South African novelist and short story writer of repute, in an interview. "It (nostalgia) may be that of the rich white land-owning farmer or that of the oppressed African who works on it and struggles to get justice. After the end of apartheid and the onset of democracy, Urban whites, who are driven only by commercial individualism, are stuck with a one-dimensional definition of nostalgia — something harking back to a privileged childhood in environs which are the exclusive preserves of people of their own colour and culture. For them, childhood is just the age of lost innocence that is now under siege from an alien majority that is supposedly hostile and they have no hesitation to pack their bags and migrate to places where they have all the mental security."

It is sometimes necessary to look at Pietersen's decision to leave for England, taking offence at the racial quotas operating in South African domestic cricket, from an alternative perspective. South African Cricket Board CEO, Gerald Majola, was asked about Pietersen some time ago, and this is what he said: "He must have left because he was not confident about himself. There is place for talented youngsters of all racial groups in our structure." One only need to look at Greame Smith's appointment of and continuance as national captain, Jacques Rudolph's place in the side as the pillar of the middle order along with Jacques Kallis and the emergence of young star J. B. de Villiers to understand Majola. It is simply not a straitjacketed case of `merit' versus race but a case of `merit' and race.

All will be given equal opportunities in New South Africa — white players who can fight it out and rise to the occasion consistently such as Smith, Rudolph and De Villiers will go the full distance as will non-whites such as Ntini, Gibbs and Boje; non-whites who fail to match up, such as Hashim Amla, Justin Ontong and Thami Tsolekile will be shown the door sooner than later as is the case with fellow white players such as Van Jaarsveld.

Coming to the explanation that the quality of South African national team has slumped due to the racial policies, nobody attributes the slump in English cricket in the whole of the 1990s due to the presence of players born outside England such as Robin Smith, Devon Malcolm and Nasser Hussain, do they? It is certainly true that skipper Smith is asking for stability in team make-up, but then, when a team goes through a slump, chopping and changing are the order of the day and these can be due to cricketing reasons as well. For instance, much ado was made of the "mysterious" dropping of all-rounder Andrew Hall for the second Test in Durban against England, the implication being that the omission was to maintain colour balance — the man taken in his place was non-white all-rounder Nicky Boje. Very few actually saw that Boje was preferred over Hall because Kallis was fit to bowl again and the South African team needed a spinning all-rounder, and not a medium pace bowling all-rounder, for variety. As it is time and space consuming to unravel the cricketing reason behind selection decisions to the national team, there is always the easy alternative to use the `spin' of race.

Young pillars. Graeme Smith and Jacques Rudolph are proof that talented whites have a place in South African cricket.-

Though the national selection policy was not overtly stated by Van Jaarsveld (or the selection policy of his Nashua Titan franchisee team) as a reason to seek employment in Kent as a non-overseas player, anxiety about his future was very much circumscribed in his statement. "Having understood that my future international prospects might be limited, I needed to weigh up my options and make a decision that was in the best interests of my long-term future," said Van Jaarsveld, who has to compete with Boetta Dippenaar, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Jacques Rudolph — all white players — for a permanent place in the middle order. We now know what to say when we are confronted by people who hold up Jaarsveld's decision as the latest totem in their line of thinking that quotas prevail over cricket in South Africa.

Majola's latest statement that fifty per cent of the South African team would be comprised of non-white players by the 2007 World Cup, many would say, is open indication that a racial quota is still operational in the South African national team and that `politics' foregrounds `cricket' in national selection. Nothing can be farther from the truth. What the CEO means is that enough meritorious non-white players, who did not have the economic resources at their disposal like fellow white players, have been put into the first-class level through age-group and junior cricket by the Transformation targets, and that they are now on a level playing field competing with white players for national places. Surely, if half the players in the franchisee teams in domestic cricket are non-white (Western Province Boland has as many as eight in the 14-member squad), international cricket is only likely to replicate the pattern of representation. Unless, of course, one is a die-hard racist who thinks that white people are more `meritorious' by birth than non-whites and that they will outperform people of other races if everybody competes on a level playing field.

From the 2004-05 season, South African cricket has been economically and operationally structured to ensure a level playing field in clubs and schools in black townships. About 75 per cent of all income from international cricket is spent exclusively on development at the grassroot level. The franchisee teams are self-supporting and are not a drain on UCBSA reserves though they have to abide by the Transformation target of four non-white players per team — not a tough proposition at all considering the burgeoning of non-white talent filtering through from amateur to age-group ranks. Gary Kirsten has been appointed high performance manager and one of his tasks is to be the personal mentor of non-white players in the franchisee teams so that they can make the transition to international cricket without any quotas, which were operational in the national team only between 1999 and 2002.

And, if people were to say that even the Transformation target of four non-white players in first-class cricket (as opposed to objections about it in the national squad, which can at least be understood) smacks of the victory of the `politics' of quotas over `cricket', they would do well to consider what a white South African Nobel Laureate for Literature, Nadine Gordimer, had to say in an interview to The Times Literary Supplement while talking about her 1998 novel, The House Gun: "The West must understand that no aspect of life was untouched by politics in apartheid South Africa. Literature, art and culture cannot claim autonomy from the systems outside. Therefore, in post-apartheid South Africa, to argue against literature, culture, art or any medium emphasising on issues of black representation on the basis that it politicises an apolitical activity is just the equivalent of saying, may the existing apartheid politics continue to flourish in these expressive modes."