Joy and gloom as selectors turn the page
There was joy for Hashim Amla, gloom for Mark Boucher and mystery surrounding Herschelle Gibbs when the South African squad to tour India was named on Wednesday. And there were also questions, such as how did Alfonso Thomas sneak in ahead of Garnett Kruger and Charl Langeveldt, the South Africans' most penetrative fast bowler of late?
Amla becomes the first South African of Indian descent to be included in the national squad, and he left no doubt about where his loyalties lay. "I'm just glad to be a South African representing South Africa," Amla said. "If I get the opportunity to play Test cricket, I will be walking onto the field as a South African. My blood is green."
The Amla family's African connection was made through Hashim's grandparents, who were from the Surat region of India. He earned his place with a run of four centuries in five first-class matches as the Dolphins' captain this season, and has shown maturity beyond his 21 years with an unflappable temperament and sound technique.
Amla added that he was pleased his efforts had been recognised. "I put in a lot of hard work in the off-season, and it's really exciting to be part of the South African squad," he said. "[I am] no doubt South Africa has the ability to become No. 1 in the world."
The jaded Boucher, the former vice-captain, a veteran of 76 Test matches and one of the pillars of the team, made way for Thami Tsolekile, who scored his maiden first-class century this season and had been widely tipped for the squad.
The exciting Tsolekile had already made a strong case for selection with his performances this season. However, his story took a strange turn last week when the chief executive of the United Cricket Board (UCB), Gerald Majola, told parliamentarians Tsolekile "should walk into the team" ahead of Boucher. Boucher, who was unavailable for comment, could well consult his lawyers in what would amount to a claim of unfair dismissal.
Gibbs made himself unavailable for selection because the UCB could not obtain assurances that he and Nicky Boje would not be detained in India in connection with a police investigation into match-fixing, relating to Hansie Cronje's activities on the last tour of India in 1999-2000.
"The UCB is willing to co-operate with any official inquiry into alleged match-fixing and bribery," Majola said. "With regard to this case the UCB is satisfied that this matter was dealt with through the King commission and the UCB disciplinary procedures four years ago, and we are satisfied that justice was done.
"However we have co-operated with the Delhi police by passing on the questionnaires to the players concerned and the South African board decided that the players themselves should take the final decision about their availability. To date we have not received any response from the Delhi Police regarding the questionnaires and Herschelle informed me on Sunday that he would not available for selection."
Boje, who has been named vice-captain, had taken a different tack but might still pull out of the tour. "Nicky has indicated to me that he is very keen to tour," Majola said. "He answered the questionnaire in full and we are now awaiting a response from the Delhi police. We will make every effort to clear up this issue as soon as possible. However, as in Herschelle's case, the ultimate decision must be taken by the player himself."
If Boje did withdraw, he would be replaced by Langeveldt. "I realise that it might seem strange to replace a spinner with a pace bowler," said Omar Henry, the convenor of selectors. "However, our options are fairly limited in the spin department right now, and we feel that Charl would be able to use the conditions in India well."
Boeta Dippenaar would assume the vice-captaincy if Boje decided not to tour. The casualties from South Africa's ill-fated tour to Sri Lanka are Boucher, Gibbs, Nantie Hayward, Lance Klusener, Andrew Puttick and the injured Andre Nel.
Squad Graeme Smith (capt), Boeta Dippenaar, Martin van Jaarsveld, Jacques Kallis, Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla, Justin Ontong, Shaun Pollock, Andrew Hall, Nicky Boje, Zander de Bruyn, Alfonso Thomas, Thami Tsolekile (wk), Makhaya Ntini.