West Indies v SA, Champions Trophy, 2nd semi-final November 2, 2006

The politics of colour

If Loots Bosman's skin wasn't a golden brown colour, his appearance in the middle on Thursday afternoon would not have raised any eyebrows



'If Loots Bosman's skin wasn't a golden brown colour, his appearance in the middle on Thursday afternoon would not have raised any eyebrows' © Getty Images

If Loots Bosman's skin wasn't a golden brown colour, his appearance in the middle on Thursday afternoon would not have raised any eyebrows. Had it been Neil McKenzie or Jacques Rudolph walking out to replace Boeta Dippenaar, there would have been no talk of quotas or targets.

Those who whisper from the shadows about discrimination and hidden agendas usually have one of their own. The decision to jettison Dippenaar, who had struggled 57 balls for 16 runs spread over three innings, made perfect cricketing sense, especially with the Australian behemoth lying in wait on Sunday - should South Africa see off the challenge posed by Brian Lara and friends.

Unfortunately, an eminently sensible cricketing decision, vindicated by Bosman playing some fine shots in his 39 on what was hardly a batting paradise, will now be hijacked by what can best be called the Kevin Pietersen brigade. A few days ago, Pietersen was quoted in a feature on the BBC cricket website, talking of a friend "who is a better player than me".

Not surprisingly, Grant Rowley is white, and hasn't played for the Dolphins since 2004. "At the end of 2003/4, I should have been given a contract, it's as simple as that," he told BBC Sport. "I was passed over while guys who averaged mid-20s were given contracts." In a society aspiring to make right the wrongs of the past, and one where even cricket teams have targets when it comes to previously disadvantaged communities, you can only feel sorry for men like Rowley, who end up paying the price for the sins of their ancestors.

Yet, at the same time, it beggars belief that so little is written or said about those players of colour who missed out in the dark days of Apartheid. Thanks to England, the world got more than a glimpse of Basil D'Oliveira's talent. But how many more were there like him? As a cricket journalist, it shames me to admit that I'm barely aware of any of the great coloured cricketers of that era. When we talk of the what-might-have-been generation of South African cricket, the names mentioned are almost always the same - Graeme Pollock, Mike Proctor, Barry Richards, Denis Lindsay, Eddie Barlow, Clive Rice and Vincent van der Bijl. Not a coloured face among them.

When you look at Makhaya Ntini run in with such elegance and power, you wonder who his predecessors were. When you see Herschelle Gibbs bat with unfettered abandon, as in that epic 175 against Australia, you wonder how many more there were like him whose talent was confined to the Cape Flats. For every Grant Rowley, there were dozens with darker skin that weren't even allowed near a cricket stadium in the old days. In a perfect world, Rowley wouldn't meet the same fate as those men. Unfortunately, we don't live in one.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo