Woolmer refused to bow to political pressure to select black players regardless of cricketing considerations, for fear of compromising South Africa's prospects of victory. The coach and his leading players responded to critics as South Africa prepared to pick the team for the first of three Tests against New Zealand, starting in Auckland on Saturday.
The debate echoes last year's rumpus when South Africa selectors omitted Paul Adams, the left-arm wrist-spinner, for a Test against Pakistan in Durban, leaving an all-white side. Following protests, Ali Bacher, the chief executive of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, said: "An all-white team in 1998 is no longer acceptable."
Adams was recalled and since then there has only been one all-white South African side, for the first Test in the West Indies series. But South Africa's tour selectors, Woolmer and Hansie Cronje, the captain, have received fresh criticism from the UCBSA for selecting all-white teams for the second and third one-day games against New Zealand on the current tour.
There are three black players in the squad, including Herschelle Gibbs who played in the first one-day international. But Woolmer, the former Warwickshire coach and England Test batsman, is standing firm and says the team management will not be dictated to for political reasons. "We pick the teams for cricket reasons and for cricket reasons only. I'm not interested in politics, I have never been and nor shall I ever want to be," he said.
Allan Donald, the South African fast bowler, said that race should not be an issue for the first Test. "Paul Adams will probably play in the Test, and there is also Herschelle Gibbs who will also probably open the batting, so I don't know what the fuss is all about," he said.
Meanwhile, Brian McMillan, the South African all-rounder, has been severely reprimanded and ordered to apologise publicly for racially offensive comments during a match. McMillan advised Claude Henderson, his Western Province team-mate, to bowl another "coolie creeper" to Ashraf Mall, the KwaZulu Natal batsman, in a match earlier this month.
The term creeper is South African cricketing jargon for a ball that shoots along the ground after pitching. "Coolie" is an apartheid-era term for a labourer of Indian descent. A UCBSA disciplinary committee statement said that McMillan was found guilty of conduct detrimemtal to the game.
McMillan escaped harsher punishment after he was ordered to make a public apology at the close of the first day's play in Western Province's Supersport Series game against Border in Cape Town yesterday. McMillan had been unrepentant after his use of the phrase and had been reported in newspapers as saying: "There's no reason to apologise. I believe it's part of cricketing terminology. Does that mean changing a chinaman? Some people might take offence at that. I think it's a lot of crap personally."
In a separate incident, Alan Badenhorst, the Eastern Province second XI player, was banned from all cricket in South Africa until 1 January 2001 after being found guilty of using crude and abusive language in a match against Griqualand West earlier this month.
Badenhorst was reported after allegedly calling a non-white opponent a "half-bred kaffir". "Kaffir", an apartheid -era term, is one of the most offensive ways a white South African can address a non-white countryman.Reuse content