Calcutta: Dr Ali Bacher, who played a leading role in the integration of the White and Black-run cricket bodies, a decade-and-half ago, has called for “clarity” and “honesty” as South Africa grapples with a sensitive issue: Enough opportunities for Blacks, but not at the cost of deserving Whites.
“Getting a solution is tough and, frankly, no sports body has been able to accurately define the process of getting to a position everybody is comfortable with,” the former national captain and Board managing director told The Telegraph.
Dr Bacher, a consultant for Stellavista (an electronic display systems major), arrived here on Thursday afternoon to make a “presentation” before the Cricket Association of Bengal.
He leaves for Mumbai, his last stop on an India trip which began four days ago, on Friday.
“I feel sorry for the sportsmen and women, who must be confused by conflicting statements from politicians and sports administrators'
“At times, a Black is selected (at the expense of a White) and his inclusion is sought to be justified on merit' I think everybody should be honest,” Dr Bacher pointed out passionately.
He added: “I accept there may well be occasions when a Black has to be fielded in a particular position. Even that, however, ought to be put forward in a straight manner.”
In fact, Dr Bacher cited a bizarre example from rugby.
“Recently, South Africa featured in a couple of games against France' The Man of the Match in the first outing (Fourie du Preez, a White), though, was on the bench in the next face-off ' replaced by somebody with a different colour. We were given to understand the change was on merit!”
Dr Bacher felt the politicians/ sports administrators must involve sportswomen and men in the “debate” on the integration issue.
“They’ve got to be part of the process' They’ve got to be involved' After all, be it Whites or Blacks, they have the biggest stake in any code for integration.”
Confirming that a quota system existed at the provincial level, Dr Bacher said: “A couple of years ago, the Board decided four Blacks have to figure in every provincial XI' Well, there can be practical difficulties: What if a Black wicketkeeper pulls a groin muscle just before the toss'”
Asked whether he was ever under pressure (during his years at the Board) to pick a Black, Dr Bacher replied: “Not through a written communication, but opinions used to be expressed.
“I remember the late Steve Tshwete (sports minister for some years) telling me his constituents were unhappy with an all-White cricket team' That Blacks needed opportunities to develop their potential'”
So, what did he do'
“For the only time, I intervened in our selection process and asked the then chief selector (Peter Pollock) to look at Makhaya Ntini' I explained we should be seen as moving in the right direction' That was in 1997-98 and, as it turned out, Ntini grabbed his chance with both hands,” Dr Bacher answered.
Moving away from integration, he felt South Africa would need “time” to rebuild after the retirement particularly of Allan Donald, Gary Kirsten and Jonty Rhodes. Even the late Hansie Cronje’s absence is being felt.
“Actually, our young captain Graham Smith holds the most important key' I rate him highly and he’s on the way to becoming a great leader,” Dr Bacher observed.
The heavy turnover of coaches in the post-Bob Woolmer era (Graham Ford, Eric Simons, Ray Jennings and, now, Mickey Arthur) isn’t exactly healthy, but not very concern-generating either.
“In my book, the captain is boss' A coach has a supporting role, absolutely nothing more,” Dr Bacher signed off, grinning.
Footnote: The officially-sanctioned experimental changes in ODIs came into play at Headingley. However, as early as 1990-91, South Africa had a one-off tournament where three substitutions were allowed. The idea was Mike Procter’s, but the fans’ response was rather cold.