There had been whispers from within the camp on the day of the semi-final that the side had been changed at the behest of chief executive Haroon Lorgat. It was certainly a surprise to many who had followed South Africa’s progress at the tournament to see Vernon Philander mark out his run prior to the semi-final at Eden Park.
Before that he’d bowled just 20 overs in the tournament, his hamstring injury, picked up during training ahead of South Africa’s second group match a month earlier against India, had been a constant source of discomfort.
His replacement, Kyle Abbott, had bowled superbly - overcoming some confidence issues and a tiny technical fault, to have the best average and best economy-rate of any of South Africa’s bowlers.
He was integral to one of the best bowling and fielding performances the team had produced in 10 years in the comprehensive triumph in the quarter-final over Sri Lanka. You’d be a buffoon to drop him. However, that’s exactly what South Africa did, and, as whispers from within the team would have it, Abbott’s axing came from instructions relayed by Lorgat.
Mike Horn, whose position as a high-performance coach and motivator - a role he’d fulfilled successfully for the victorious Indian team in 2011, and then with the German football side last year - made him a popular member of the backroom staff, this week became the first “insider” to acknowledge there was “interference”, in selecting the starting side for the semi-final.
Horn has no ties with CSA, unlike the coaches, players or even the selectors who are all contracted to the organisation. As a result, he speaks without fear of recrimination, and thus can’t be dismissed in the manner that CSA did when stories first emerged about the starting XI being changed shortly after the World Cup ended.
No, the Sports Minister was not involved. Whether the changes to the side were communicated to Russell Domingo and Andrew Hudson via SMS, WhatsApp or email is not important - although, were evidence to emerge suggesting that’s how Lorgat communicated his instructions, his position as CEO would be compromised given the vehement denial he issued at the start of the month. However, that the side was changed from the one originally picked by the skipper, coach and chairman of selectors is what’s important.
Why was it done? To fulfill a pre-determined quota. The semi-final was played in the same week CSA announced a new quota policy for domestic franchises to be implemented next season. Under the new policy, the starting XIs of franchise sides were to be made up of six “players of colour”, three of whom had to be Black Africans.
CSA couldn’t send the national side on to the field in a World Cup semi-final with just three “players of colour”, one of whom - Imran Tahir - was born outside the country, in the same week as such a major announcement.
Whether done at Lorgat’s singular behest or whether he was pressured by his Board, the side initially picked wasn’t allowed on to the field. If Philander couldn’t play, then selecting Farhaan Behardien in place of Rilee Rossouw was the other option. The latter was apparently dismissed - the selectors concerned that New Zealand’s attack, far superior to any other they had faced (other than Pakistan), would expose the batting. Philander had, as Hudson explained to Independent Newspapers, a few days later, an excellent record against New Zealand in New Zealand - in the Test arena, it should be added - and allied to his batting, was included for the semi-final. It was a bad - though forced - error.
AB de Villiers and some of the senior players were understood to be furious. Domingo had to step in, claiming he would “accept the blame” for Philander’s selection, just so the skipper would take the field. Horn, as he stated this week, had to get the players “to give a bit more,” given that they had to “make a difference with less”.
The match concluded in emotional fashion, with Dale Steyn failing to defend 12 runs in the last over. He didn’t bowl well throughout the match, but in the aftermath has largely escaped responsibility because of the brouhaha over the team being changed.
Philander didn’t bowl as badly as people perceived. His first spell was poor - so was Steyn’s - and, in fact, Philander was unlucky not to get the wickets of Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott in his later spells. Where Philander fell short was in executing the game plan the South Africans wished to implement - using the short ball to force New Zealand’s batsmen to hit to the long square boundaries at Eden Park. He doesn’t bowl with sufficient pace for his bouncer to be a “weapon” but, knowing he had to enforce that plan, he bowled it anyway and was smashed. Abbott was better-suited to executing that strategy.
In terms of the issue of the makeup of the team, though, CSA created a problem for itself by not claiming the team was “incorrectly” picked. If it was policy that there be four “players of colour” in the starting team, surely De Villiers, Domingo and Hudson would have known about it. If there was dispensation allowing for that policy not to be followed - as had been the case for the quarter-final - they should have known that, too. As it was, when a match finishes as closely as that semi-final, then CSA - despite all Lorgat’s attempts at wanting to control information - can’t prevent speculation nor in the case of Horn, someone unattached to CSA, from speaking what they see as the truth.
What the new quota policy must do, is assist in preventing such drama from occurring in four years time. Then there should be no doubt about the makeup of the squad.
Weekend ArgusThe semi-final was played in the same week CSA announced a new quota policy for domestic franchises, says Stuart Hess.
Original source: CSA needs to answer for Philander saga