Selectors the 12th player on pitch

The majority of sports lovers have little understanding of the role selectors play in the success or failure of their chosen game. Armchair supporters probably believe that choosing the team to represent the club, province or country is what they do with a little talent- and form-spotting thrown in a week before.

In truth most national selectors themselves don’t realise the importance of their job, which is understandable given that it was treated as an amateur pastime until very recently. Even now, the remuneration paid to South Africa’s cricket selection panel is little more than a stipend to offset expenses.

The reality is that they can do as much, if not more, than any development programme or improved salary structure to motivate young players and sustain interest among those who choose to make a career in the sport. Glass ceilings, perceived or real, are the bane of businesses in which promotion is sought. The same applies in sport, but even more so.

This is the argument used by the parents of talented white boys when they send their offspring overseas to pursue their dreams in countries that have no need to redress imbalances of the past with racial quotas or “targets”. Ironically, every country in the world has prejudices of some sort – they’re just not so obvious.

Skin colour determines sporting opportunity to some degree in South Africa but education, geographical origin and club affiliation have just as much effect on opportunity in England and Australia, for example. Caste and “class” have an impact in India and on the subcontinent, while Jamaicans have always believed Barbados is merely a stepping stone to playing for the West Indies.

Age is another obstacle and South Africa has the worst record of all in the past 20 years. Providing opportunities to young players is a wonderful thing, but regarding anyone approaching 30 as a veteran unworthy of the investment of a first international cap is, in fact, backward thinking rather than “planning for the future”, which is the cloak of disguise often used.

World Cup cycle obsession
South Africa’s obsession with the four-year World Cup cycle has become a disease for which there appears to be no cure. Having a squad of players with 500 caps among them is no guarantee of success. Neither is investing in a select group of players hoping for a dividend three years later.

Linda Zondi took over as convenor of the national selection panel this year after it was headed for five years by former opening batsman Andrew Hudson. Zondi may not be a household name, but his record as convenor of the Under-19 squad and a panel member at national level for three years suggests he knows what he is doing. At just 39, he is young enough to “understand” players.

His first squads were announced three days ago for two T20 internationals and three one-day internationals (ODIs) against New Zealand from August 12 to 26. As always, there was plenty to discuss. Opinion was divided on a number of issues, which is better than a consensus of negative reaction but not the utopian ideal of complete affirmation.

Logic suggests, for example, that no player deserves to be dropped two days after a tour in which he did not play a single game. Most people in any line of business assume they have to do something to be sacked, never mind something wrong. Yet this fate befell two players when the Proteas ODI squad was announced. All-rounders Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell were both discarded, having been selected to play in Bangladesh in what was a straight shoot-out for the troublesome number seven position.

On the plus side was the recall of 36-year-old Morné van Wyk, a vastly respected professional who retains all the physical and mental attributes to contribute to a winning team and culture. It sends a critical message of hope to all senior pros with aspirations to play for their country.

Communication is the vital ingredient, not only to those selected and omitted but to the supporters who grease the wheels and pay the bills of the game. Do Zondi and his panel – Ashwell Prince, Errol Stewart, Hussein Manack and national coach Russell Domingo – have a plan? Are they strategic? Casting the net wide is vital, but only if they are discerning about the fish they catch.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

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Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp works from Cape Town. Talk and write about cricket,golf and most sports. Executive Coach. Cook for the family when at home. Neil Manthorp has over 27405 followers on Twitter.
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