Cloud over start of England-Proteas series
South Africans won’t be taking the knee, but the issue remains sensitive and divisive
In an ideal world‚ SA hosting England in the first of three T20s on Friday at Newlands in the first international cricket engagement here since the Covid-19 outbreak in March should be hogging the headlines.
It should be the biggest news and something to be celebrated‚ considering the battle both countries have had with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But cricket may again take a back seat given that the national team will not be allowed to express themselves on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) issue and the mixed messages around it‚ at least not in the form of taking the knee.
Cricket in SA has been dominated by off-the-field issues focused on the former board of Cricket SA being reluctant to part with a forensic report into its activities until Wednesday, when the interim board did that for them.
Player exasperation with the board’s antics was made clear by
Rassie van der Dussen.
“It’s not ideal and throughout the course of the winter, where there wasn’t much that was happening‚ it was brought to the forefront in terms of the players’ perspective. We’re realistic in a sense that we can’t do much about it and, to an extent‚ we’re employed to play cricket‚” he said.
On the BLM issue, SA team director Mark Boucher could have been expected to take a lead role. Instead, his silence throughout the process was problematic, as was his eventual response.
With a 24-man squad from various racial and cultural backgrounds, there seemed to be a missing sensitivity on how the BLM issue could have been dealt with‚ even though the squad had attended a cultural camp at Skukuza to thrash out these issues.
Boucher said he had spoken to Lungi Ngidi, the player “who was driving the [BLM] process within our setup, and he’s pretty happy that we’ve done what we’ve needed to do”. Ngidi wanted to “carry on going‚ but we had the hard chats in Skukuza and we’re pretty happy with where we are at the moment”.
In a team environment that is also dealing with two positive Covid-19 tests that have affected preparations for what will be a landmark series‚ the BLM issue could have been handled better.
It is clear that it’s still a major conversation and one that could have serious implications for the home team if England‚ who went out of their way to accommodate the West Indies in taking the knee in July‚ decide to take the knee while the South Africans don’t.
Fast bowler Kagiso Rabada said “it was a team decision not to kneel”, but the team could look at other issues such as gender-based violence and “devote ourselves to another cause”.
“However‚ Black Lives Matter will always be relevant and it is something that I will always believe in‚ and I speak for myself here,” he said.
“But Mark [Boucher] has stated that the team will not take the knee, and that is how it is going to be.”
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