"We will put blacks in your team" ran the banner headline in The Star newspaper after the decision by the United Cricket Board of South Africa to make the presence of players of colour in provincial teams mandatory from next season.
At the same time, the South African selectors recalled Herschelle Gibbs - a non-white player - to the squad to face the West Indies in Port Elizabeth - the only change to the 12 who won the opening Test by four wickets in Johannesburg. Gibbs has replaced Adam Bacher and is set to open the batting despite having appeared in the middle order for Western Province for most of his first-class career.
Gibbs' call-up forced the 24-year-old opener to enter the debate and defend his selection. "If I was the parent of a Test hopeful, I certainly wouldn't feel happy if my son was selected to represent his country simply because he is a person of colour," he said.
The ruling on provincial teams and Gibbs' recall reflected the racial and political undertones that still persist in sport after decades of apartheid. The selection of cricket and rugby international players in the Springboks has become a charged political issue with critics arguing against "racial quotas" in sports, while opponents say it is vital that teams should more accurately reflect the country's 87 per cent non-white make-up.
The UCB's ruling on provincial teams followed statements by the ruling African National Congress, who denounced "lily-white" teams, and the sports minister, Steve Tshwete, who said he was fed up with the lack of progress on this issue.
South Africa's sports control body, the National Sports Council, denounced the UCB's move as too little too late and vowed it would enforce the inclusion of black players.
"There is a concerted effort to keep black players from representing the country at the senior level. We cannot fold our arms while black players are deliberately kept out of cricket," Mluleki George, the NSC president, said. Tshwete was also reported to have warned the selectors not to pick an "all-white" team for the Port Elizabeth Test as it had for the opening Test. The five-match series is the first post-apartheid tour by the West Indies.
Under the new ruling, provinces that do not have enough skilled black cricketers will be able to select from a pool of players to be introduced by the UCB.
In future, if the national selectors are unable to name black players in a squad or team due to form or injury, the selection will be referred to a UCB committee who will have the power to order the selectors to include players of colour.
SOUTH AFRICA (Second Test v West Indies, Port Elizabeth, Thursday): G Kirsten, H Gibbs, J Kallis, D Cullinan, H Cronje (capt), J Rhodes, S Pollock, M Boucher (wkt), P Symcox, A Donald, P Adams, D Terbrugge.Reuse content