Johannesburg: Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the South African Sports Minister have denied reports that the selection of pacer Vernon Philander ahead of fast bowler Kyle Abbott for their team's World Cup semi-final against New Zealand was racially motivated.
Philander was called into the South African XI in place of Abbott for last week's match against the Black Caps in Auckland, which the Proteas lost by four wickets. Philander had missed four of South Africa's seven World Cup matches before the semi-finals after he picked up a hamstring niggle during the pool stages.
His selection alongside Hashim Amla, Imran Tahir and JP Duminy increased to four the number of 'players of colour' -- a term which encompasses black Africans, mixed-race people and those of Asian descent -- the same number required under a quota system for the national team before it was scrapped in 2007, reports cricket.com.au on Monday.
Vernon Philander during the match against India. Pic/ AFP
A report in the Sunday Times quoted a "well-placed source" as saying that Philander's selection came at the direction of the CSA -- a claim that has been denied by the board's chief executive Haroon Lorgat.
"There was and is no political interference in our selections," Lorgat said.
"We have a selection panel that includes the coach and independent members, and this panel selected all the teams at the World Cup in the same way that they did before the World Cup."
CSA president Chris Nenzani added: "I have not in the past interfered with the selection of the team and I do not intend to do so in the future. We have always emphasised that national team selection must be on merit."
South Africa's sports minister also denied reports that he had influenced the national cricket team to drop a white player and pick a black player in his place for the semifinal. Minister Fikile Mbalula, who is black, said he was responding to accusations made by "a dying breed of political dinosaurs."
"We know who are spreading these speculations and we will not dignify them by mentioning their names," Mbalula said in a statement. "These are acts of desperate colonial apartheid apologist(s) ... We shall not be deterred by their mischief."
Philander took 0-52 from eight overs against the Black Caps and left the field during the run chase due to injury.
After arriving back in South Africa over the weekend, Proteas coach Russell Domingo defended Philander's selection ahead of Abbott, who took nine wickets in four World Cup matches at an average of 14.
"Vernon was fully fit. He had been through all the rehab and fitness tests. He has been a champion bowler for a long period of time in all formats," Domingo was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
"In New Zealand we always felt that the wicket could offer the seamers a little bit and when there is something in the wickets, Vernon is one of the best exponents of that and that's why we went with that."
The Sunday Times' source said the Proteas players were "fuming" over Philander's selection and captain AB de Villiers was reluctant to play in the match over the issue.
Quota-based selections have long been a topic of debate in South African sport and the Philander case comes after CSA increased racial quotas in domestic cricket. Franchises are now required to have six players of colour, including three black Africans, in their sides.
The Proteas have not had a racial quota since the system of including four players of colour in the side was scrapped in 2007.
The racial makeup of South African sports teams has become a hot topic in a country still struggling to right the wrongs of white rule under the racist apartheid regime, which officially ended with the first democratic elections in 1994.
South Africa's rugby and cricket teams — the country's two most successful sides — have long been under pressure to field more black players. They remain mainly white, though, and rugby and cricket have now re-established racial quotas at domestic level to force teams to pick a certain amount of black players.
Similar quotas in the late 1990s and early 2000s caused deep resentment in South African sport.