It's not about colour but ability - Jennings
Ray Jennings, the coach of the South Africa Under-19 team, acknowledges the need to develop the underprivileged segments in South Africa but feels the issue requires flexibility because "you are also looking to win". However he was clear that any player picked for South Africa, regardless of race, is good enough to play international cricket.
"I'm sad that coloured players in the team could have the stigma attached, where they feel they are underprivileged when that's not the case," Jennings told Cricinfo while preparing his side for the U-19 World Cup. "It's not about having a 50-50 or 60-40 split between white and coloured players. In our country, the sides are picked on their cricketing ability because the players of colour are good enough to play."
Jennings' comments come in the wake of the spat between the senior team coach, Mickey Arthur, and board president Norman Arendse over the selection of South Africa's squad to Bangladesh. "Before people criticise any player representing the country, especially at the Under-19 level, they should come to the ground, take a look, and judge for themselves," said Jennings, a former coach of the national side.
The 15-member squad chosen for the World Cup contains a mix of both white and coloured players, including Jonathan Vandiar who is of Indian origin. "The players of colour are good enough to represent the country," Jennings said. "I haven't been given a transformation policy as coach of the U-19s. To me, the policy is if the player is good enough to play. And there are enough players of colour who are good enough to play."
Moving on to the tournament itself Jennings said the South African squad was stronger than the one that took part in the previous edition in Sri Lanka in 2006, a side selected without the players being properly assessed. "While picking the 2006 side, we had a four-day tournament before we arrived for the World Cup," he said of the side led by Dan Elgar, which reached only as far as the semi-finals of the League. "From a cricketing point of view, the top players in the world can have four noughts in a row.
"This year I've tried to have five or six camps, and we've had a tour and a three-day competition. The guys have played enough cricket for me to know their mental toughness, their skills and how they perform in each position. I would anticipate probably a 50% better result in this World Cup compared to the last."
South Africa's preparations began on a positive note with a seven-wicket win against Namibia in a warm-up match on Tuesday. Wayne Parnell, their captain, said that even though they chased the target of 106 in 19 overs, they continued batting (as if the game was still on) and set themselves goals of 185 in 30 overs and 300 plus after 50. They achieved both.
Their competition will get tougher, though. They play Sri Lanka in the next warm-up and are pooled with Papua New Guinea, West Indies and India in what is arguably the tightest group. South Africa played India recently at home but lost the youth Test series 0-1 and didn't make the final of a limited-overs tri-series which involved Bangladesh too. Their first match is against West Indies on February 18 at the Kinrara Oval in Kuala Lumpur.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo