South Africa admit Tsolekile u-turn
Andrew Hudson, South Africa's convenor of selectors, has admitted his panel told Thami Tsolekile he would play the Test series against New Zealand before going back on their decision. Their stance had to be reversed when AB de Villiers decided he would like to continue in his new role as keeper-batsman.
Hudson's acknowledgement comes after Tsolekile revealed he was "disappointed," at being left out of the squad and confused about the reasons for his exclusion. Tsolekile spoke to various media outlets in the last few days and expressed his concern over the administrators not following through with their promises.
"I wasn't expecting to play in England because I knew that I went there as a substitute when Mark Boucher was injured and I had no expectations at all. When I packed my bags for Australia, I also knew I was going to be the back-up keeper," Tsolekile told ESPNcricinfo. "But before that tour, the selectors told me I would get a chance against New Zealand, especially if things go well. When I spoke to them again, I was getting different messages. There's nothing I can do now. I'll just keeping doing what I am doing for the Lions."
More often than not a player voicing discontent over non-selection in the public domain would cause a fracas, but this time it has only resulted in sympathy. Cricket South Africa's acting chief executive Jacques Faul confirmed the organisation would "sit down and have a chat about what happened because we have to interrogate the process," while Hudson said he "feels for Thami."
Hudson was the bearer of Tsolekile's bad news but emphasised he was willing to be "transparent" about what had happened. "When Boucher was forced to retire in England we need a replacement and even though AB was reluctant to do the job, we asked to fill in for the next two tours," he said. "We did tell Thami he would get his chance against New Zealand.
"After the tour to Australia, AB came back to us and said wants to continue keeping wicket because he is enjoying it. That was not the case six months ago. AB's interest in doing the job meant the situation was different."
De Villiers was able to alter his earlier position because the selectors wanted him as the first choice wicketkeeper anyway, according to Hudson. "When he told us he wanted to play as the wicketkeeper that was fantastic news for us because we can now play an extra batter or extra bowler at No.7. It is not a case of him dictating to us. If he changes his mind at any stage, we will respect that."
Although de Villiers has a history of chronic back problems, which worsened after the England tour, Hudson said the administrators are happy for him to continue keeping wicket even if it means he is rested from limited-overs matches, such as the forthcoming three-match Twenty20 series against New Zealand. De Villiers is South Africa's ODI and Twenty20 captain but Hudson said he will be rotated so he is able to focus on Test cricket.
In the longest format, South Africa have stuck to a seven-batsmen strategy since England with the additional player proving worthy. Both JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis carried underperforming players at No.6.
Jacques Rudolph and Dean Elgar - who bagged a pair on debut in Perth - have averaged 21.50 in the position and Hudson said although the selectors take note of that they will continue with the tactic "especially when we have JP back." Duminy has just completed the first month of six in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in Brisbane.
As a result of the policy to play seven batsmen, Hudson said: "Thami is now in competition with AB for his place in the squad." While Tsolekile claimed that was never explained to him as bluntly as that, he admitted that Hudson told him he needs to put in better performances with the bat.
Hudson has spoken to Tsolekile's franchise coach Geoff Toyana and asked for Tsolekile to bat higher up the order to give him the opportunity to score big hundreds. Tsokeile usually slots in at No. 7 but was moved up a place in the on-going first-class match against Warriors. It was his first competitive outing in seven weeks and he scored an unbeaten 88. In the same round of fixtures, Rudolph managed 9 for Titans and Elgar 43 for Knights.
Apart from the cricketing argument, there is also concern that Tsolekile's exclusion represents an anti-transformation stance especially since South Africa's Test team has not included a black African in almost two years, since Lonwabo Tsotsobe in January 2011. Still, Hudson insisted he and his panel "are committed to transformation."
CSA, though, are concerned about representation. The next board meeting is on January 9 and Faul said there is a possibility that legislation will be passed to ensure development is better attended to. "We already have directives at semi-professional level to ensure black African players come through we may have to legislate it at franchise level as well," he said.
Hudson said even if those instructions extend to national level, he will happy to accept them. "If the board want to propose further guidelines, I will embrace them and see them through," Hudson said. South Africa does not have an official quota system in place at the moment. It was previously mandatory to play four players of colour in every team which included black Africans, mixed-race and those of Indian descent.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent