South Africa news March 29, 2015

CSA denies Philander semi-final selection down to quotas

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

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