After days of discussion around the Black Lives Matter issue, South Africa's elite cricketers showed a united face against racism by taking a knee at Centurion's SuperSport Park ahead of the 3TC match on Saturday. All 24 participating players, support staffers, CSA officials including Graeme Smith, the director of cricket, and members of the SuperSport commentary team - Makhaya Ntini among them - joined in as South Africa staged its first live cricket match in four months.
The gesture, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, came after a fortnight that showed up the faultlines in South African cricket. On the eve of the match, Smith, Faf du Plessis and Dwaine Pretorius confirmed that they would take the knee, and joined three other white South African cricketers - Anrich Nortje, Rassie van der Dussen and Marizanne Kapp - in supporting Lungi Ngidi's call for players to join the rest of the world in making a stand against racial discrimination.
With no spectators allowed at the ground, television coverage showed the players standing in a half-circle facing the vacant presidential suite at SuperSport Park to sing South Africa's national anthem Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. The players then took their positions on the field, with Temba Bavuma's Kites bowling first, to Reeza Hendricks' Kingfishers. As the umpires called time, with the words "we are ready", the Kites players - batsmen Janneman Malan and Hendricks - and the umpires took a knee on the field. The rest of the teams and everyone else involved stood around the outside of the boundary and did the same, their right fists raised in solidarity.
Cameras panned to Smith, who was flanked by former Springbok World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar and former South Africa quick Ntini, who had made headlines this week as he recalled instances of racial discrimination during his time as an international. In an interview on television on Friday morning, Ntini revealed how he used to run from the ground to the team hotel to escape the "loneliness" of sitting on the team bus, where he said the rest of the squad would move to the back if he was in front and vice-versa.
On the day, on the live broadcast, Ntini and Smith discussed the gestures at the start of the game. Smith told Ntini he could "feel the emotion coming from you". Ntini replied: "that's why we stand together."
"A very important message is being put out today," Smith said on air, and Ntini agreed, calling it "one of our greatest moments", while also echoing the call for unity. "Everyone can see that, as South Africans, we all stand up and plough the same furrow together. We stand together," Ntini said. "The more we do this the more change will happen. Here's Lungi. He was the first one to voice it, and everyone [who has since supported BLM] stood by him."
Ngidi's stance on BLM prompted reactions from both sides with four former players - Rudi Steyn, Pat Symcox, Brian McMillan and Boeta Dippenaar - criticising the youngster for not showing equal solidarity for the fight against the murder of predominantly white farmers in the country.
The quartet drew the ire of 31 former players including Vernon Philander, Ashwell Prince, Ntini, JP Duminy and Herschelle Gibbs, and five current coaches including Geoffrey Toyana and Wandile Gwazu who were in charge of Eagles and Kites respectively at the 3TC. The group collectively issued a statement in support of Ngidi and called for CSA and cricketers to support the BLM movement.
Hashim Amla, who wasn't in the list of signatories to that letter, made public his own thoughts on the matter the next day, thanking Ngidi and others who had "stood up for just causes in their own way". On air, Smith said, "There's no need for Ngidi to be attacked at all. I think he's handled himself extremely well."
After the letter from the 36 players and coaches - all of colour - CSA issued a second statement supporting the BLM movement but it was not until Friday that more plans around how it would show that support were revealed when Smith, du Plessis and Pretorius said they would take a knee.
Before, during, and after the game, the players and commentators, as well as CSA officials, wore armbands with 'Black Lives Matter' emblazoned on them. Andile Phehlukwayo, who was playing for the Eagles, also wore a "Black Lives Matter" t-shirt under his team shirt, and showed it off when he dismissed Heinrich Klaasen in the final innings of the match.
AB de Villiers, who sparkled for the Eagles as they won, touched upon the subject in a post-match interview, saying that the aim was "solidarity in South Africa".
"There were obviously quite a few more important things out there today [than just the cricket]. Just getting out as cricketers and playing a bit of cricket, doing it for solidarity in South Africa. Showing that we can stick together as a nation. That, to me, was ultimately what it was all about," de Villiers told the official broadcaster.