My father introduced me to cricket in 1984. He bought me a Duncan Fearnley cricket bat which I treasured because the great Graeme Pollock also used one. He was one of my heroes. In fact, I was normally a right-handed batsman but tried to bat left-handed to emulate Pollock and the former West Indian captain, Clive Lloyd.
My father, a teacher and a staunch advocate of non-racial sport, however, burst my bubble soon enough about the realities of the South African sport. We are watching Pollock and "South Africa" take on Lawrence Rowe's "Rebel" West Indians, a team paid handsomely by the apartheid government to break international sanctions.
My dad was furious. I recall him saying that "his tax is going towards legitimising cricketers while there is a crime against humanity going on". I was devastated as I realised Pollock was also endorsing a system that kept many black cricketers on the sideline.
So maybe I shouldn't have been too surprised at Pollock's latest comments about how "transformation was affecting the Proteas performance". He also claimed that "politics were interfering with the selection of players".
Was it the crushing loss to England at Lord's by 211 runs last week (South Africa's first test defeat since November last year to Australia) that compelled him to cast doubts on a side that has consistently been one of the best test sides in the world? While the Proteas are yet to win a major ICC Tournament or a World Cup, their test record since unification is impressive.
The statistics don't lie, despite the apparent swear word "Transformation":
- Since unification in 1991, the Proteas Test side have beaten Australia at home in three consecutive series. (A feat only equalled by the great West Indian side of the 80's and early 90's).
- They have beaten England at home in 2008 and 2012, with the last culminating in the Proteas becoming the world's number one test outfit.
- They won a test series in Sri Lanka for the first time in 2014 and also boast series wins against India away and Pakistan.
- In 2012 Hashim Amla broke the great Sir Viv Richards' record for the most runs scored on an England tour.
- Makhaya Ntini boasts the best bowling figures for South Africa, followed by Kagiso Rabada.
- Vernon Philander has consistently been among the top 10 test bowlers in the world while Rabada recently became the top ODI bowler in the world, replacing Imran Tahir, another Protea.
- As I'm writing this, Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander have bowled the Proteas in a almost unassailable position at Trent Bridge with Amla providing the finishing touches with the bat.
- Despite the retirements of Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and others, the Proteas have consistently held their own against the top test nations.
- Lest we forget Hilton Moreeng, who has just guided the Women's Proteas side to a World Cup semifinal in England.
Unfortunately, Pollock's comments feed into the narrative that "whiteness means excellence" and being black means "inferiority" or a "lowering of standards."The tragedy is that this narrative remains despite black sportsmen and women proving time and time again that they deserve a seat at the table.
And it's not only cricket that has reaped the benefits of a transformed team. The recent success of the Blitzboks, who became world champions this year, is well documented. And despite all his critics, Pieter de Villiers can still boast that his Springboks beat the All Blacks five times, delivered the Boks' last Tri Nations title and also beat the British and Irish Lions in a Test series.
Pollock's comments imply that black sportsmen and women still have to justify their place in society. His comments imply that white sportsmen have a supreme right to be included in our sports teams, while their black counterparts have to be tolerated, or have to prove their worth. This while sports like cricket and rugby have a long and proud history among black South Africans and the very best of them had to sit on the sidelines while Pollock had the opportunity to represent "South Africa".
Luckily those that sacrificed their lives for a unified South Africa have a true understanding of what "political interference in sport" really is. Some of them know that addressing the injustices of the past isn't "reverse racism". Luckily there are more and more black sportsmen and women who have grabbed their opportunity and have shown they belong on the world's greatest stage. And standards haven't lowered. They have risen. Look it up, Mr Pollock. The stats don't lie.