Omission of Ntini sparks race row

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The Independent Online

The South African sports minister Ngconde Balfour has said that his plea for consistency in selection following Makhaya Ntini's dropping from the side to face Australia is not racially motivated.

Ntini, a black fast bowler, has taken 11 wickets in nine Test matches, but was replaced for the Melbourne Test by the fit-again Allan Donald. However, the axe also hung over the struggling all-rounder Lance Klusener who, having been selected, was out for a golden duck yesterday as South Africa fought to remain in the series.

After the announcement of Donald's selection, Balfour's spokesman, Graham Abrahams, said: "If the selectors feel that a player is not performing to their full potential, then it is their right to drop him. But there should be fairness and equal opportunity irrespective of who the player is."

In some quarters, the comments were interpreted as having racial undertones, but Abrahams said his statement "had absolutely nothing to do with colour". He added: "Sectors of media have this notion that when a black player is dropped the Government will step in and moan about it. Makhaya needs to be dropped and deserves to be dropped. We will not quibble about it, but let's have consistency.

"It's absolutely nothing to do with colour and everything to do with consistency in selection. We are talking about playing the strongest possible side with variety of options. It is nothing to do with colour. There needs to be consistency. In the same way that Makhaya lost form, Lance Klusener lost form.

"It would have been an option to consider drafting Jacques Rudolph into the team in place of Klusener. That would reduce your bowling strength but we need to strengthen batting and young Rudolph would have been perfect."

The tour has been marred by arguments over selections made along racial lines but, while Abrahams said that the national side was picked on merit alone, the South African cricket board's chief executive Gerard Majola confirmed that the team must be multi-racial. "You can't play an all-white team," he said yesterday. "There has to be a minimum of one black player."