Cricket: Steps toward a team of many colours: Glenn Moore reports from Johannesburg as South Africa awaits its first black Test player

THE hunt is on in South Africa for the first black Test cricketer. Will it be Walter Masemola, the fast bowler from Alexandra, the Sowetan batsman Geoffrey Toyana or the Port Elizabeth all-rounder Kenneth Mahuwa?

Whoever it is is likely to find himself a lone figure in the South African dressing-room for several years. It is not that he will be ostracised - cricket is integrating far more easily than most areas of South African society - but that history suggests black cricketers will not make a collective impact on the national side for a generation.

That is how long it took the Afrikaners. Twenty-four years ago, when South Africa defeated Australia 4-0 in the last series before isolation, all 15 players used were English-speakers. On Thursday, when they again defeated Australia in a one-day match in Melbourne, four of the team spoke Afrikaans as their first language - Kepler Wessels, Hansie Cronje, Fanie de Villiers and Allan Donald.

Donald's inclusion (when he came to Warwickshire he spoke little English, but now has a Birmingham accent) underlines that names can be misleading. Even in South Africa's rigid society there was enough fluidity for Afrikaners to gain British surnames and vice- versa - Peter van der Merwe, Vincent van der Bijl, Garth Le Roux and Adrian Kuiper are all English- speakers.

Although there were a few exceptions (such as J J Kotze at the turn of the century and Peter Heine 50 years later) most Afrikaners did not play cricket until the Seventies.

The turning point came with the successive resounding home Test victories over Australia in the late Sixties. By this time South Africa, once run by the English, was firmly controlled by the Afrikaans Nationalist Party which may have made cricket, the colonial game, easier to accept but the main catalyst was the discovery that South Africa had the best - and most exciting - team in the world.

'It started around 1970,' said Eddie Barlow, now the Transvaal cricket manager and then a key member of a South African side who included Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Mike Proctor. 'Until then Afrikaner schools did rugby in the winter and athletics in the summer.

'Cricket is an expensive game with the cost of equipment and upkeep of the ground and it was hard to justify to parents who were not interested in it. But when it became increasingly prominent there was a desire to get involved which co- incided with an effort by the authorities to spread the game.'

The difficulties faced by Afrikaner cricketers before then are underlined by the experience of Rudi Koetzen, the umpire in England A's current match with Transvaal.

Koetzen, who last season became the first Afrikaner to stand in a Test match, grew up in the Afrikaans town of Dispatch near Port Elizabeth and, although introduced to cricket at school, was unable to develop his enthusiasm until he moved, at 26, to an English area.

'I played at school but being an Afrikaans one there was little interest in the sport,' he said. 'All my friends were rugby players who played cricket occasionally for fun, I was seen as unusual in wanting to achieve something at it.

'But I was only able to play regularly when I moved to Kimberley in 1976 and joined the De Beers club which had coaches like Yorkshire's David Bairstow. I was the only Afrikaans speaker in five teams at the club and that was when I learned most of my English.'

The country's linguistic split has created problems for those reporting on the game for Afrikaans newspapers. Piet Oosthuizen, of the Beeld newspaper, explained: 'It can take a paragraph just to explain where a position like backward point is while some phrases like maiden over are hard to describe.' Domestic television coverage is conducted in alternate half-hour sessions of each language which raises the possibility of a commentary box of babel if the game really takes off among speakers of the 16 or so black languages.

The first players to come through were those like Wessels and Corrie van Zyl who went to Grey College in Bloemfontein. Grey College has become one of the foremost cricket nurseries, a dual-medium school - lessons are in Afrikaans one day, English the next - it exposed Afrikaners to cricket earlier than most and now supplies the bulk of the Orange Free State's Castle Cup- winning team.

But, points out Colin Bryden, the sports editor of the Johannesburg Sunday Times, it took time for them to take advantage of the opportunity.

'When Hansie Cronje's father Ewie was at Grey he was the only Afrikaner in the school 1st XI. By the time Hansie made the team there was only one English- speaker,' he said.

'If the game develops in the black community the same way, it will take 20 years or so to produce a consistent flow of good players into provincial sides. A cricket culture needs to be passed on from father to son.'

Both Barlow and Ali Bacher, the United Cricket Board's chief executive, think it will be quicker because of the concerted effort being made through the development programme in the black townships. Yet it is surely no accident that Toyana and Mahuwa, two of the leading black players, come from a cricket background, Toyana's father having been a keen cricketer and Mahuwa's the groundsman at Port Elizabeth.

But while Bacher's dream team of white batsmen, black quicks and Indian spinners may be some years off it will come eventually. Equally inevitably there will also come a time when no one is counting the colours just as the Afrikaner Allan Donald and the English-speaker Jonty Rhodes are heroes to Boer and Anglo-South African alike.

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