South Africa in Australia 2012-13

Tsolekile plays down race comment

Firdose Moonda

November 18, 2012

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South Africa's Thami Tsolekile heads to practice, The Oval, London, July 17, 2012
Thami Tsolekile on Makhaya Ntini: "He is talking from a point [of view] where he wishes to and would love to see more African players playing for the Proteas" © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: South Africa tour of Australia
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Thami Tsolekile has talked down his non-selection in the Test team after being nationally contracted in February. His statements come after former Test bowler Makhaya Ntini implied race played a role in Tsolekile being consistently overlooked for the wicketkeepers' role despite the retirement of Mark Boucher.

Tsolekile was identified as Mark Boucher's successor even before his injury-enforced retirement in July, but has not played a match because AB de Villiers was tasked with the keepers' role. While Tsolekile's omission has been put down to strategy, with South Africa using Boucher's absence to lengthen their batting line-up, two weeks ago Ntini presented another argument.

He said Tsolekile "would have been playing if he was white" and questioned why there is only one black African player in the Test squad, 20 years after South African cricket was unified. But Tsolekile said Ntini may have been reacting out of hurt.

"Having played most of my cricket in the township and, with Makhaya, also growing up in the township, obviously he was an icon," Tsolikile said. "He has done very well over the years. What he said was quite disturbing and I wouldn't know why he said that.

"He was speaking on behalf of himself. Maybe he has got his own reasons for why he said that. The fact is that he is talking from a point [of view] where he wishes to and would love to see more African players playing for the Proteas. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what he meant."

Ntini was the only black African to consistently represent South Africa at international level after readmission in 1991. He is one of only seven black Africans to play for the country in any format. Five of those have played Test cricket but under Gary Kirsten no black African has worn the whites. Since Ntini's retirement in November 2010 the only black player to take the field has been Lonwabo Tsotsobe - he played just five Test matches but rose to the top of the ODI rankings in the last year.

Tsolekile was believed to be the next black African Test player but has yet to make his comeback. Instead of delving into the race politics, though, Tsolekile was softer in his approach: "I feel good that I have been recognised and I've spoken to the selectors. I'm happy because I know exactly where I stand. I had a long chat with Gary in England and again in Australia, and I think he made it clear where I stand and I am happy with that."

He did not elaborate on where that is but he believes that he will, eventually, play a Test. "It might take three weeks, three months or a year for me to play another Test match. I don't know," he said.

De Villiers has shown no signs of giving up the gloves, despite the effects on his back and his batting. He said his body is coping with the extra burden even though he suffers from chronic and recurring back pain, and he feels on the verge of a big score though he has not managed a single half-century since taking over from Boucher.

"I got a lot of value out of both my innings [in Brisbane]. I was in in both innings. I felt like I could score a hundred in both innings and I had the energy to do so. It's a little unfair to look at the stats. I've only had seven or eight innings as a wicketkeeper and there's still a lot to come. It's got nothing to do with wicketkeeping, or energy levels, or mental fatigue or anything of that sort. I just haven't been able to push through."

With Duminy being ruled out of the series with a ruptured Achilles' tendon, Tsolekile - who played three Test matches in 2004 and was quickly replaced after appearing out of his depth - may yet get his chance on the Australia tour. He said that whenever it comes "it will feel like I am making my debut".

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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