Andrew Hudson on the quota debate December 30, 2004

The issue that dares not speak its name

Andrew Hudson: 'This generation has to pay for the sins of our forefathers' © Getty Images
It is the issue that dares not speak its name, but is nonetheless bubbling away beneath the surface of the South African team at present. The question of quotas - whether to play your best side regardless of race, or whether to compromise the short-term quality of the team to enable society to reap the long-term benefits - is a uniquely South African debate, and one that was intensified at the start of the England series, when Thami Tsolekile was controversially retained as wicketkeeper ahead of the vastly experienced Mark Boucher.

The Tsolekile experiment was shelved for the second Test, because the return of Herschelle Gibbs, coupled with Hashim Amla's home debut, enabled the selectors to keep up their non-white numbers while improving the balance of the side. But the debate still rages, with several pundits and former players having their say on the matter - not always entirely constructively. But the former South African opener, Andrew Hudson, is an exception. Now an SABC commentator, Hudson is universally regarded as one of the good guys of the game, and he gave Cricinfo a candid assessment of South Africa's dilemma.

"It's difficult to strike the balance," admitted Hudson during a break from his commentary duties. "People who don't live in South Africa find it difficult to understand the concept of transformation. We've got to be careful about saying 'We're just going to select on merit' and to hell with it, because with everything that's happened in this country over the last couple of years, opportunities have to be given to players of colour.

"I'm certainly not a politician," he said, "but it seems to me that this generation has to pay for the sins of our forefathers. It will take some time to strike the right balance, and it's unfortunate for sport that it has to happen this way, but we do have to try to normalise society."

After missing out for the first Test at Port Elizabeth, Amla - the captain of Dolphins, formerly known as KwaZulu-Natal, - was a shoo-in to make his debut in front of his home fans for this match. "There's so much potential and talent in all communities in South Africa," said Hudson. "There's a big Indian community here in Durban - they are passionate about cricket and always have been, and I've no doubt there will be several Indian cricketers representing South Africa in the future. Likewise there's a strong black community in the Eastern Cape, and a strong coloured community in Cape Town. These are the communities where resources need to be spent, so that players can come through and be selected on merit.

"But these things take time," he added, while pointing out - quite reasonably - that there are very few societies in the world where equality of opportunity has been achieved. "You find disadvantaged communities in other countries all round the world. In South Africa it was caused by politics, but elsewhere it can be a natural state. You get disadvantaged communities in India, England, West Indies ... are those cricket unions pumping in huge amounts of resources to help? I don't think so."

Although he is unequivocally in support of the transformation process, Hudson sounds a note of caution as well. "I just hope that the process ends sooner rather than later, and is not something that drags on into the future. I'm looking forward to the day when there's a line drawn in the sand, when we've given a lot of opportunities to all different race groups in South Africa, and a stream of raw talent starts to come through the system, irrespective of colour.

"At present, with all these quotas and things, what we are actually doing is reintroducing the colour issue back to our children. The sooner we get to the point where we go back to merit, and treat everybody as individual human beings, the better it will be for the game of cricket."

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following the England team throughout the Test series in South Africa.