SA set to miss 2017-18 transformation target

Faf du Plessis congratulates Lungi Ngidi upon picking up his maiden Test wicket BCCI

On the face of it, South Africa would seem to have two normal selection debates on their hands ahead of the third Test against Australia. They are deciding between Theunis de Bruyn and Temba Bavuma in the No. 6 spot and between Lungi Ngidi and Morne Morkel as the third seamer, and there are decent arguments to be made for all four.

De Bruyn has only played five Tests but his first-class numbers show great potential. He has an average of 46.27, has played in six out of the eight franchise matches this season and has scored two daddy hundreds - 195 and 190. But he has only made more than 20 once in four innings in the series against Australia, which has opened the door for Bavuma, who has not played a Test since October and any professional cricket since mid-January after suffering a broken hand, to make a return.

Bavuma's first-class average of 37.40, and Test average of 33.13, belies his nuggety nature. Though he only has one Test century to his name, scored two years ago, he has eight fifties and most of them have dug South Africa out of deep holes. So the choice is between the man who is there and has not yet lived up to his promise and the one who has started well but needs to kick on at international level.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ngidi has taken to international cricket like he was born to do it. He has 14 wickets from his three Tests at an average of 16.42, is able to find movement and bowls with accuracy. He is nursing a small toe niggle which may require him to sit out at Newlands but if he is fit, including him ahead of Morkel could be justified, as it was in the second Test. Even though Morkel has played 84 Tests and is three wickets from becoming the fifth South African to 300, Ngidi is a strong competitor to keep him out. In Morkel's favour is his experience, the fact that he has found some of his best form in the latter part of his career when he has been more prone to pitching the ball up, and the nostalgia of his impending retirement.

So, while South Africa seem to have a complex cricketing choice to make, dig a little deeper and they are also deciding between black and white.

The reality of South Africa's transformation imperatives cannot be ignored and, this season, CSA will miss the ministerial target.

South Africa's transformation numbers are calculated on an annual basis, from April to April, and require a minimum average of six players of colour, of which two must be black African, to be fielded by the national team over a season. That equates to 54.54% players of colour and 18.18% black African players in the XI.

For 2017-18, across 12 Tests so far (with two to come), 15 ODIs and 8 T20s, South Africa have fielded 51.40% players of colour and 19.74% black African, thereby missing the first target but exceeding the second. The chief culprit in South Africa's inability to meet the target is their representation in Tests, where they have only fielded 44.69% of players of colour - largely as a consequence of JP Duminy's retirement and Bavuma's injury - and although they have tried to make up for it in shorter formats, they have not been able to.

Even if South Africa fielded an entirely non-white team in the remaining two Tests, they would still fall 13 caps short of the players of colour target. The consequences of their failure to meet targets have not been explicitly defined, especially since the sports minister has changed since the last time the audit was done.

When South Africa failed to reach the target in the 2015-16 year, then-minister of sport Fikile Mbalula banned CSA from bidding for or hosting major events, which did not affect it because there was no ICC tournament in the calendar. Instead, it forced CSA to implement a national target, which was met in the 2016-17 summer. Tokozile Xasa is now the sports minister, having been appointed in February, and has yet to make any strong policy statements.

While the suits wait to see Xasa's reaction, CSA is likely to continue to impress the importance of taking steps to show an intention to meet the targets, rather than an indifference to missing them, as Faf du Plessis indicated. "As a guy that has a say in selection, I always strive to get that [targets being met]," du Plessis said. "So first priority will be to get those balances and targets right. If there were injuries that played a part then it's difficult to make - for instance if Kagiso [Rabada] wasn't available for this game then it's a different story. But I also believe it's my responsibility to look and see how we can achieve that."

That means Bavuma and Ngidi could get the nod, and it is important to note that they are both regarded as equally deserving of a spot as the men they would be displacing.

As far as Bavuma is concerned, du Plessis said he had "a lot of confidence in Temba", who he called a "high-quality" player that can slot straight back in despite not having recent game time. "Obviously he hasn't got a lot of cricket under his belt, but the quality is there," du Plessis said. "Ideally, you'd like guys to play cricket after an injury to get themselves back into form or time in the middle. It doesn't always work like that. Temba hasn't played cricket, but he looks good in the nets for a while and his hand is fully recovered."

But Ngidi's participation is likely to rest more on his injury status than whether or not du Plessis considers him a better bet than Morkel, who is fully fit.

"Lungi bowled really well in the previous game but he's also got a little bit of a toe problem, which is probably why the consideration is happening. If he is not 100% then it is obviously an easy decision for us," du Plessis said. "What counts in Morne's favour is that he is a fit bowler and can bowl long spells. That's really important going into this Test match, especially if we have three seamers and a spinner. We'll have our three bowlers that have the biggest tanks when it comes to bowling a lot of overs."

With Morkel's milestone of 300 Test wickets also looming and only two more opportunities for him to play, South Africa may also want to be mindful of getting Morkel over the line before sending him off. But coach Ottis Gibson expressed little sympathy with Morkel's position, saying that selection in professional sport is only about trying to pick a team that can win.

Gibson's statement was ironic because in South Africa, that has never been the only consideration. Pre-democracy, there was only white, post-democracy there has been a push towards black and now there are all the shades of grey, when equally competent white and black players are in the mix.