Politics governs everything we do - the games we play, the way we play them, who we play." That statement from the late, great British cricket broadcaster John Arlott certainly rings true, especially when talking about the South African cricket team. The quota system is certainly a taboo subject. Brought into play in 1998, Cricket South Africa now insist that a minimum four players of "colour" are included in their starting eleven for each match. The authorities now intend to scrap the policy by 2011 but South Africa would arguably be a better side without it.
Kevin Pietersen and Jon-athan Trott made their first Test match appearances in the country of their birth at Centurion yesterday. Pietersen, born in Pietermaritzburg, and Jonathan Trott, a Capetonian instead controversially opted to play for England. The extrovert Pietersen was not shy in explaining why in typically forthright fashion. "I was dropped because the quota system was brought into South African cricket to positively discriminate in favour of "players of colour" and to fast-track the racial integration of cricket in the country," he said in his 2006 autobiography, Crossing the Boundary.
While Trott has stayed fairly quiet on the subject, it is clear that he was met by similar frustrations. For Pietersen and for Trott, England have provided opportunities that did not exist in their homeland, a country that is slowly achieving its post-apartheid aims of integration. South Africa's four "players of colour" in the first Test - Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Makhaya Ntini and Ashwell Prince deserve their places on merit. Amla, Duminy and Prince all average more than 40 in Tests with the latter pair close to the magic 50 mark. Ntini makes his 100th Test appearance for the Proteas in this match having spearheaded his country's attack for more than 10 years, taking 388 wickets.
But on England's last tour to South Africa in 2004-05, the captain Graeme Smith had an abundance of selection problems caused by the quota system. Mark Boucher, widely regarded as the world's best wicketkeeper, did not play in any of the first three Tests due to these political reasons. The South Africans' inability to amend their very own draconian rules proved to be their downfall during that series.
To get around their own regulations, the little known Thami Tsolekile took the gloves in the first Test, before Amla came into the side at Durban spectacularly failing in his first four Test innings against England. Boucher ultimately returned for the fourth Test, but the damage had been done by then. The South African side have been well settled over the last few years but it remains to be seen what effect this system has on this and future series. Pietersen and Trott would love to make their mark on their first Test tours "back home".
South Africa are progressing as a nation and a cricket team since the dark days of the past. But they need the scrapping of this system to gain the world's respect and move onwards. Not everyone is against it though. In 2006, just 14 per cent of white South Africans were in favour of racial quotas but that figure rose to 63 per cent when coloureds were asked the same question. A thorny issue it may be, but while the system provides opportunities for all, it discriminates against themselves as a sports team and a country.
2011 may be the year when quotas are abandoned but two former South Africans may punish them first. Arlott, anti-apartheid, once completed an immigration card question on race by writing "human". Smith probably feels the same way. email@example.com