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Subliminal prejudice ... Time to accept players of colour can also play the game of cricket

Proteas coach March Boucher congratulates Keegan Petersen following his performances against India. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Proteas coach March Boucher congratulates Keegan Petersen following his performances against India. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 16, 2022

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Cape Town - Proteas coach Mark Boucher, when describing Keegan Petersen’s success against India, also credited the Proteas captain Dean Elgar.

“He (Petersen) is in a good position to have a guy like Dean next to him who really does back him,” said Boucher, who praised what Petersen had achieved.

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It was one time when the national coach surely could have simply applauded Petersen’s effort in making 72 and 82 in the third Test win and spoken of the player’s pedigree, his improvements and on the potential of a brighter future.

There always just seems such an inability from Boucher’s generation to acknowledge that a player of colour can actually do it without the help of a white colleague or teammate.

I found Boucher’s inclusion of Elgar in expressing his delight about Petersen to be misplaced.

Elgar has had his own battles in the early stages of his international career, but he has always refused to go away and he has fought to ensure his credibility as a Test opener and also as an international captain.

When Elgar came good, it was because of the work Elgar had put in. When Aiden Markram flourished, it was because of the work he put in.

Petersen has prospered because of the work he has put in, and while it will always be a bonus having a senior player at the crease in any innings, the reason Petersen played the way he did was not because of a captain who has backed him and stood by him. He succeeded because of technique, composure, patience and the ability to bat.

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I’d like to think a national captain backs his teammates, but I would also like to think that Petersen playing in the three Tests against India did not need any preferential backing from the captain, given that it was just his second series and to have judged him on two Tests in the West Indies would have been particularly harsh.

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Petersen deserved every bit of applause and it would have been a very different quote if it was Petersen who said his success was down to the influence of the national captain.

When Marco Jansen fired in the series, he was credited with being a special talent. His left arm pace added variation to the Proteas attack and Jansen was rightly described as the find of the series.

I didn’t read the coach crediting Kagiso Rabada’s presence as being the reason Jansen prospered. The praise was directed at the player in question.

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It is the subtlety of expression that has to be challenged, especially given the history of Boucher in the Proteas and the racial accusations levelled at him. I am not saying there is malice or intent in what he says, but I am saying there is a subliminal prejudice in refusing to accept that players of colour can play.

Petersen has cricket in his blood. His father Dirkie was a very good cricketer, but because of segregation and apartheid he played in the non-racial competitions; competitions that were deemed by white cricketing South Africa to be inferior and second rate.

It was the same competitions that produced Basil D’Oliveira, who had to leave South Africa to realise his potential as an international batter in playing for England. D’Oliveira, because he was coloured, was never eligible for white South Africa’s national team because apartheid deemed white to be right and white ability to be superior.

In the past decade, we’ve seen the absurdity of this thinking in rugby and cricket where players of colour, once given the opportunity, have blossomed. It was only 30 years ago that millions of potential national players would not even have been considered for South Africa’s national team.

It is, unfortunately, still against this backdrop that players of colour operate. The white minority incredibly still has a powerful presence, in influence and in representation.

When the Proteas lost the first Test against India at SuperSport Park, Centurion, the typical South African social media response was to blame politics and quotas on the result. Forget that the majority of underperforming players in the Test were white.

Forget that Temba Bavuma was strong in both innings with the bat and Lungi Ngidi and Rabada took wickets.

Bavuma has been the model of consistency in the most recent two series against Pakistan and India, but every time he bats, it is as if he is batting for an international lifeline with the white South African cricket public, or at least the majority of them.

Not so Aiden Markram, as one example.

Markram is a very talented player, but his international credentials are seldom questioned. There is a desire to see him succeed and willingness for him to come good. When he delivers that one striking innings, it is sufficient to command the faith, but no number of innings from Bavuma seals the deal.

Markram averages 36.5 in Test cricket and had a torrid series against India, averaging just 12.6 in six visits to the crease. Bavuma averages 34.08 in Test cricket and averaged 73.6 in his six innings against India.

Equally, when Rassie van der Dussen has produced indifferent returns, the default is to question if he is batting in the right position and not whether he is good enough to be batting in Test cricket.

The Proteas wins at the Wanderers and Newlands were outstanding efforts, and it was no surprise that I didn’t read about quotas being an issue or politics being an issue because the wins were down to (white) leadership.

The Proteas won at the Wanderers and Newlands because of some very big individual performances and these respective displays transformed the collective of a team of players whose confidence had been low.

It didn’t matter what colour these players were and it shouldn’t, but for the one step forward, there always seems to be two back into an era that believed white was a birthright to privilege and to superiority.

It is this mindset that has to be challenged every time it rears its ugly head.

@mark_keohane

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