South Africa news March 29, 2015

CSA denies Philander semi-final selection down to quotas

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Was Vernon Philander one of South Africa's best XI at the World Cup? © AFP

A controversy has arisen over South Africa's decision to play Vernon Philander ahead of Kyle Abbott in the World Cup semi-final. Reports in South African media have suggested that Philander was included in the team on the insistence of members of the CSA board and against the wishes of both the coach and captain.

CSA president Chris Nenzani has denied the reports and both AB de Villiers and Russell Domingo have said Philander was picked on merit.

The reports said board members apparently insisted on Philander's inclusion to ensure South Africa fielded four players of colour. Even though there is no official quota at international level, it is the norm to field four players of colour, the number that used to make up the quota before it was scrapped in 2007. South Africa slipped below that number for half of their eight games at the World Cup, which is believed to have become a cause for concern among the administrators.

ESPNcricinfo has asked Nenzani for his comments on the issue but has not received a reply. But Nenzani has denied the reports elsewhere. "I have not in the past interfered with the selection of the team and I do not intend to do so in the future," he told the Sunday Times. "We have always emphasised that national team selection must be on merit."

After starting the tournament fielding five players of colour - Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir - for the Zimbabwe and India games, the number dipped to three for the next three matches, largely because of injuries.

Duminy and Philander picked up side and hamstring strains respectively and were replaced for the matches against West Indies and Ireland by Rilee Rossouw and Abbott. Duminy returned against Pakistan but Behardien was left out and although Philander was due to play that match, he had to withdraw during the warm-ups when he felt discomfort. Abbott played in his place.

Philander was back to full fitness for the match against UAE, in which South Africa again had five players of colour. Domingo called that XI "what we perceived to be our strongest team on the day", even though it did not include Abbott. Faf du Plessis also missed that game because of a lower-back issue.

South Africa made two changes from that game for their quarter-final against Sri Lanka. Du Plessis returned and Abbott replaced Philander. A CSA release on the day of the match said Philander was injured but a source close to the team denied that a few days later and said Abbott's inclusion had been tactical.

Abbott took the opening wicket against Sri Lanka and impressed with pace and movement and was expected to play the semi-final on the back of impressive numbers. He took nine wickets at 14.44 in four games and had the best average and lowest economy rate among South Africa's attack but in the lead-up to the match against New Zealand, there were indications Philander, who at the time had a return of 4 for 83 in 20.3 overs, would play instead.

"It's been a stated objective of ours to transform. We talked about being aggressive with transforming, of providing opportunities for players that were previously disadvantaged"
Haroon Lorgat, CSA CEO

"Vernon is a wonderful bowler who has performed well for us over the years," Domingo said at the time. "He has a good record in New Zealand and if there is anything in the wicket to exploit, we know he is the person to do it."

Philander's records in other formats warrant that statement. He was the fastest bowler to 100 Test wickets in a century and he has a Test average of 21.95.

Domingo maintained his stance after the match, when questions were asked about Philander's selection and his fitness, given that he left the field during the semi and South Africa used a substitute fielder in Farhaan Behardien. "Vernon was fully fit. He had been through all the rehab and fitness tests. He has been a champion bowler for a long period of time in all formats," Domingo said at South Africa's arrival in Johannesburg. "In New Zealand we always felt that the wicket could offer the seamers a little bit and when there is something in the wickets, Vernon is one of the best exponents of that and that's why we went with that."

Andrew Hudson, South Africa's convener of selectors said similar in an interview with the Cape Times: "We have to remember Vern has also performed for us over the years, and I think we were hoping that in New Zealand conditions he would have nipped it around a bit and done some damage. I also think that he gives us extra batting option at number eight which helps us with our tail."

Philander has played six ODIs in New Zealand and has taken eight wickets at 22.62. The only place he has a record better than that, where he has played at least three ODIs, is at home.

Two days after the semi-final it emerged that CSA's board had taken a decision to increase quotas at domestic level without consulting with the South African Cricketers' Association and with only two weeks left for teams to finalise contracts. In the 2015-16 season, franchise teams will have to field six players of colour, up from five, including three black Africans.

It was also mooted that the semi-professional amateur sides field seven players of colour, up from six, including four black Africans but CSA has since backtracked on that after a legal threat from SACA. Semi-professionals will continue to field six players of colour with three black Africans, while CSA has given the franchises R350,000 (US$29,057) each to conclude further contracts.

Haroon Lorgat, CSA CEO, explained the need for the domestic quotas as part of CSA's commitment to change. "I think its positive. We need to exploit the talent pool we've got in the broader communities," he said at the team's arrival home. "We've recently seen some fabulous performers from what you might regard as quota players and those are the best players that we believe are coming through the system. That's hugely encouraging. Up until now, we've been selecting from a smaller pool. It's been a stated objective of ours to transform. We talked about being aggressive with transforming, of providing opportunities for players that were previously disadvantaged, black Africans in particular, and we are following that through."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • grahaam on March 31, 2015, 16:36 GMT

    Sad news ,though not verified, the denials sound familiar (Zim Fan)...if verified then the future is not looking good for SA. I recall Charl Langeveldt dropping himself over a similar event some years ago. I hope this is found to be an untrue story .

  • GermanPlayer on March 31, 2015, 10:46 GMT

    Sad. Abbott was clearly the better player to have played the semifinal. SA need to get past this transformation system. Equal opportunities should be given at the ground level. After that, there is only place for the most talented.

  • iBhubesi on March 31, 2015, 9:18 GMT

    This is disappointing.... If the grey blazers at CSA interfered in team selection on the eve of a crucial knock out game all in the name of transformation then it was a gross miscalculation on their part.... I agree with the need to transform SA sport however it cannot be done by our national coaches at senior level... Time we wake up and realise that these half-hearted attempts at transformation are actually hurting our sports... Do things properly at juniour level, level the playing fields and give equal opportunities to all players then this whole transformation hoo-haa becomes a non-issue... Why is that so hard?

  • dummy4fb on March 31, 2015, 8:36 GMT

    Anyone who thinks that Philander's inclusion in the team was not political, must be very very very naive!! The politicians at CSA will eventually realise that the team should be selected on merit. You cannot mess around with the quota system if you want to win the world cup. The competition is too fierce for that. Wake up and smell the coffee!

  • TommytuckerSaffa on March 31, 2015, 7:42 GMT

    Its tough being a South African cricket fan. I hope other countries can appreciate that. Politics has always been used as leverage in our national sports and it really hurts the fans, regardless of their colour, because we all lose in the end.

    In the semi-final, I watched as a South African pretty much knocked us out the of WC. We often have to play against our own kinsmen (half of the England team) and invariably these players play at their best to try prove a point in leaving the country in the first place.

    I dont think Philanders selection was political, I think it was simply a foolish selection. Management decided to change a winning team and play a player who was still unfit and injured.

  • ontheboundary on March 30, 2015, 21:02 GMT

    Wiese and delange have to be brought in most likely as replacement for behardien and steyn. Morkel and tahir stay on with philander/ abbott. That gives us 5 decent bowlers and when steyn has his appetite back then we will be a real threat. If parnell can only find the right length consistently how much better will we be!!! There is also young rabada in the wings who will become one off our greats

  • ontheboundary on March 30, 2015, 20:46 GMT

    The most thought out comments here suggest that: 1. Steyn shouldnt have been selected on current form. He needs to take a sabbatical from the game and rediscover his bowling mojo. 2. AD should not continue as bowling coach

  • skeez on March 30, 2015, 18:00 GMT

    After what Chris Gayle did to Abbott i would n't trust him in a SF with Baz in a beast mode. Those who question Philanders inclusion should really ask themselves why they don't question Steyn's inclusion who seemed to have lost any ability to swing the ball - he even got some tap from the Zimbos! Our fast bowlers as a unit are clueless but what do you expect when you have Allan Donald as a coach! I would go as far as to say Steyn's perfomances have deteriorated since Donald was appointed. None of our guys are good with slower balls,yorkers,cutters its just pitch it up back of a length or just plain short all at 135-145 very predictable.

  • dummy4fb on March 30, 2015, 16:15 GMT

    Philander never bowled badly....he was just a bit unlucky... quite a few of his deliveries were nipping around and beating the bat. Mccullum & co just took the attack to him on a small ground.Kyle bowled well in Australia on much bigger fields. On small fields with big bats It could've happened to anyone, it even happened to mitchell johnson and co...... "Form is temporary, class is permanent is the hunch they had." I'm not saying i agreed with the selection, i would've played Parnell but that was the motto they followed and they went along with it. And as a South African I respect the decision that AB & Co took and I think everyone else should too.

  • Proteas_Supporter on March 30, 2015, 12:26 GMT

    Quota or Merit, Philander didn't deserve to be picked ahead of Abbott who was the bowler in form! I don't know who wanted to pick Philander, whether it was Domingo or AB or outsiders but it was a mistake!

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