Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
South Africa's national men's team will need to field a minimum average of six players of colour, of which at least two must be black African, in their XI effective immediately, in order to meet their transformation targets. The instruction was confirmed by CSA's board at their AGM on Saturday and follows confirmation in July that all national teams will be obliged to meet targets as part of what CSA has termed a drive to transform "aggressively," and "make cricket a truly national sport accessible to all."
The targets will not be imposed on the XI in every match they play but calculated on an average basis over the season. That means that South Africa's selectors will not be strictly bound to that combination all the time, but if there are some matches where they do not meet the targets, they will have to compensate in other games.
Although the emphasis and timing of CSA's transformation efforts appear to be a response to being banned from bidding for or hosting major tournaments by the country's sports ministry as punishment for the slow progress of change, CSA has denied that is the case even though there is talk of a World T20 being held in South Africa in 2018.
"That would be an unfortunate analysis of the situation but the coincidence cannot be avoided," CSA president Chris Nenzani said. "We are not driving transformation in order to host an event. That event is going to come and go, as many events before it. We are driving transformation because we believe it is the right thing to do. We have to talk about transformation, whether or not there is 2018."
Nenzani harked back to when CSA hosted its first transformation conference in more than a decade in 2013 as being the starting point for this wave of policy-making. The major outcome of that meeting was that increased the domestic target to five players of colour at franchise level and six at the semi-professional provincial level. In 2015, the board again increased the numbers to what they are today. Currently, all franchise and provincial teams must field six players of colour, of which at least three must be black African.
"All along we maintained a view that we would not want to set targets for the national team premised on the fact that if your system begins to work it should naturally assist you in terms of players coming through to the national set up. That was the hope that we had, that natural progression would ensure player were getting in, black players in general, black African players in particular," Nenzani said.
However, CSA has since admitted it is not seeing players come through quickly enough and has decided to implement a target at the highest level as well. "The very fact that there is a need to set certain targets indicates that the system has not been working optimally to achieve representivity," Nenzani said. "The idea of setting targets in the national teams is to say the system has not assisted us in producing. We are setting targets forcing the system to work towards the targets."
There is a degree of leniency in the new numbers because they will not apply on a match-by-match basis but will be assessed over a period of time. "We are saying let's look at this target over a season which allows the coaching staff and team management to have flexibility," Nenzani said. "If there are reasons that the coach says, 'In this match, because of a number of reasons and conditions, I am not going to be in a position to play black players,' or even that 'I am going to go into this match without a single black African player,' that flexibility is allowed but it should be based on objective reality. If I were to be put in the same situation, I should see the same reality."
An obvious concern is that South Africa will load their XIs with players of colour who do not have clearly-defined roles, or that they will only pick players of colour for fixtures with little significance. "It has happened already where you have players selected as going to play and then they don't bowl and they don't bat. We are hoping that the people who have the responsibility to implement these decisions are going to go a step further and show commitment," he said.
"As a board we have taken a decision to say we are going to make sure these decisions are implemented and we are going to assess and evaluate the implementation process. We are going to introduce what we call consequence management. If you fail to act in a manner that advances the efficacy of the system, you need to account for that."
By and large, South Africa are already meeting these targets. In the two Tests against New Zealand, they fielded that exact combination although they did not have either AB de Villiers or Morne Morkel (both white) because of injuries. In the ODI series in the Caribbean in June, South Africa fielded no less than six players of colour in every XI, although their black African component varied between one and two. In their second match they made history when they fielded eight players of colour.
"What is really encouraging is that the Proteas, who are our flag bearers, are already achieving these targets and in some cases exceeding the targets we have just set. The Test starting XI that played in the recent series against New Zealand contained six players of colour and two Black Africans and the ODI starting XI had as many as eight players of colour (73%) in their most recent series against the West Indies and Australia," Nenzani said. "The South Africa A side had six players of colour and three Black Africans in the starting XI that beat the Australia National Performance Squad by nine wickets in the final match of their quadrangular series in Australia today."
Many questions still remain unanswered, such as whether South Africa fears a talent exodus as white players escape limited opportunities. For now, the focus is on making more use of the players they have by including all South Africans, especially those previously marginalised, in the sport. "This is a national imperative, it is a constitutional imperative. It is important for transformation to succeed," Nenzani said.