Quinton de Kock sitting instead of kneeling and the history of SA cricket

When he chose to sit rather than kneel, and what has come before.

Let’s talk about Quinton de Kock. I do not know why he chose to not play for South Africa for personal reasons, but it’s being reported that it’s related to him not wanting to be forced into taking a knee. Being that not only has he not taken a knee before, he’s not shown measures of solidarity at times. So whether it is true or not, it all adds up.

But Quinton de Kock is just the pointy end of this. The reality of all this is much more involved with the history of South African cricket, which is of course intertwined with the History of South Africa.

Let’s start with the first major incident as they began Test cricket. No one knows how good Krom Hendricks was. Krom was not his given name, and across the internet, you can see him referred to as William Henry Krom Hendricks and Armien Hendricks. We know little about him at all outside of this book.

Hendricks has one major match, and I use that term loosely. Malays v WW Read’s XI at Newlands on 22nd, 23rd March 1892. It was only a two-day non-first class game. To make it seem like an even more pointless match, the Malays fielded 18 players. But WW Read’s XI wasn’t just any team; it would be the second Test team to play South Africa.

So by this point, England had played against the best South African players for an entire summer. And this match against 18 Malays (a non-first class fixture) was their last before heading back on the boat.

WW Read would play 18 Tests and make 22349 first class runs. Billy Murdoch played 19 Tests, 18 for Australia, one for England And JJ Ferris who played 9 Tests, eight for Australia and one for England. These guys knew their cricket; they had played in three continents, were grizzled veterans. And they saw Hendricks take 4/50 against their team.

Think about that for a minute. They thought his team to be so poor that it needed an extra seven men to compete. And here was one of those guys taking almost half the England’s wickets. Many said he was the quickest bowler in South Africa; the English weren’t keen to face him again. Read said that Hendricks would be “central to any SA side that might be selected to tour England”.

Many South African newspapers supported Hendricks going to England. Western Province and Transvaal cricket boards also suggested he should play. The politics of the day made this very hard, but as a workaround, the team manager suggested that Hendricks could come as the baggage man and play in matches. Hendricks replied with this, “I would not think of going in that capacity.”

There are stories of non-white players representing South Africa on occasion from then on in. But only fleeting, and even then some are disputed. We don’t know how good Krom was, but we know that the colour of his skin was a problem.

It was also the reason that cricket stopped in South Africa. The Basil D’Olivera affair opened up cricket’s hypocrisy nicely with South Africa having been able to play cricket while skipping the West Indies, Pakistan and India. And even after D’Oliviera, Australia still tried to play South Africa. The first Women’s World Cup had an international l team that was basically South Africa. The second Women’s World Cup was almost hosted there. Not to mention the rebel tours of England, Sri Lanka, Australia and the West Indies.

And then in 1992, South Africa came back to cricket, and they did so with Omar Henry. A phenomenally gifted spinner who is the first undisputed black player to represent South Africa. And when he spoke about his experience on that tour and said he wanted leave during that World Cup.

Henry was speaking at the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings happened in South Africa this year. Let’s call them SJN. And many things came out of those hearings about the treatment of any players not classed as white.

Since South Africa were in cricket, race has been an issue, because race was brought so front and centre in South African society. When people say there shouldn’t be politics in sport, how do you unstable South African as a nation from their cricket team. It doesn’t work.

And when politicians specifically get involved, they go for bold gimmicks over real sustainable change. And so for decades, South African cricket has been about quotas.

Before the SJN hearings, it looked like Cricket South Africa were going to change their quotas.

You as a cricket fan will have your own thoughts on quotas in cricket. You will bring your politics and experiences in. As do I. But I want to share a brief story about why representation matters.

In 2006 Greece played the USA in the semi-final of the FIBA World Championship. The USA team had LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

The Greek men weren’t bad, but they were rarely the best side in Europe, and their level was usually just outside a medal. In another sport, being the fifth-best team would mean you were pretty good, but in basketball, it meant you were a long way off Team USA.

Yet, the Greeks won that game. 101-95. It was a monumental moment for Greek basketball. Twice.

Because watching that game was a skinny kid who didn’t even have Greek citizenship despite being born there and sold things of the street to help his family, until then he wanted to be a footballer. But watching the Greeks beat Team USA inspired him to like basketball. And it wasn’t just the win; it was one player, Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Or as they called him, Baby Shaq.

To this young boy, he saw a black Greek guy like him scoring against NBA players, and he thought:

“If he can do it, so can I.”

If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll know this is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Who has been a better player than Baby Shaq, and is on his way to be as good as the real sized Shaq, maybe better still.

So that is why representation matters on a sporting level. You don’t know when little Giannis will be watching Baby Shaq.

Greece had a system that allowed Giannis to learn the game of basketball as well as anyone. If young athletes in South Africa don’t have access to proper cricket facilities and coaching, they won’t develop the same.

In South Africa they are always talking about transformation. These quotas are supposed to do that, and they’re involved in every age group level to try to fix the problem of how few Black African players represent the team. But the basic problem is how South Africa currently develops talent.

Because there is a group of cricketers in South Africa that are being developed by one of the best talent improving systems in cricket history, the South African elite school system.

Obviously, those schools will have a higher percentage of white students because of the fees, and even because it would be harder for a young black child to get an early scholarship for their athleticism if they’ve not had good training before then. And less than 10% of South African state schools have cricket facilities. This isn’t a talent problem, it’s a development one. Black African players are far less likely to have access to equipment and pitches. Are they supposed to get good by magic?

So if the government of South Africa is serious about representation, they would ensure that all schools have these facilities, or create their own elite sporting schools, and get all the best young talent now in these schools into them. It wouldn’t just work for cricket. My guess is the elite school system of South Africa has produced many great golfers, tennis players, athletes and rugby stars too. So lean into what you do well, put your money where your mouth is.

And just to show you what I mean, this is South Africa’s top ten International wicket takers and run getters from 2015-2020.

The crosses are for those who didn’t go to a top-level posh fee-paying school. Even those who didn’t, like Steyn and Philander, still went to fee-paying schools though. So if you cut it off as paid, that’s 18 people from that kind of schools. Of the two from non fee-paying, one is from Pakistan, and the other is a six six guy who bowls 90 miles an hour and had an older brother already doing well. Essentially, to be really good for South Africa you need to be a Pakistani freelancer, have a professional brother or get into a fee-paying school.

The other obvious thing is that just by looking at this list, there are four black African players who all went to fee-paying schools as well. Not to mention many other players who qualify under the quota system.

And if you were to look into the backgrounds of many of those out there who have played for New Zealand, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, in T20 franchises or as Kolpaks, it’s the same kinds of schools. Every cricket scout in the world knows that South African schools cricket is one of the best places talent factories on earth.

Still not convinced, well as Luke Alfred once wrote of a school match in South Africa once had Far, Ab, Neil Wagner, Dane Vilas, Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Heino Kuhn, Stephen Cook, and three more first class cricketers.

Even CSA as they have been using quotas, have believed there are better ways, as this article in the conversation suggests.

“Cricket South Africa has recognised this too, arguing that the need to address transformation throughout the system requires dynamic interventions as well as “deep-seated” changes in the mindsets of all stakeholders. Developing talent at grassroots level is another area of agreement. The lack of long-term player development from grassroots to senior levels has resulted in a dearth of sufficiently and tactically experienced black African professional cricketers.”

But let’s be real clear, the quota part of this is not all bad. Because of quotas they have given a few talented players an opportunity they may not have received before in a system that wasn’t set up to found them, And it’s not just players, it will help breed coaches, selectors, administrators, commentators. Even if it’s a flawed concept, good can, and has come, from quotas. But not everyone likes them, including several players who have benefitted from it.

Like when Charl Langeveldt pulled out of a tour because he didn’t want to be seen as a quota selection. Makhaya Ntini recently said he didn’t like quotas either.

And part of the reason is that once you are selected as a quota, people still doubt you should be there even when you perform. Let’s compare Ntini and Steyn after Ten tests.

Both would go on to be greats, Steyn an all-time great, and Ntini a South African great. But, only one had to hear rumours about him perhaps not being good enough even on his way to 390 Test wickets.

There is another one I always think about.

No one is comparing them as overall talents. Obviously Kallis was an all rounder as well. But if their races were switched, Kallis would have been the one everyone loudly whispered about.

And there are real game examples of how the quotas have upset a player who has benefitted from it and potentially cost South Africa a game, not just any game. The biggest case was the 2015 World Cup semi-final. In that match Kyle Abbott was the obvious choice as the third specialist seamer. If you take Steyn as a lock, these are the stats of the other three seamers in the tournament.

Now, these are the basic numbers, which show Vernon Philander was still doing ok, but this doesn’t take into account that Philander was nursing a hamstring injury. He wasn’t fit, and he came in for the best performing bowler of the tournament. Philander would only play three more ODIs after this, in fact, he only ever played 30, South Africa never considered him an ODI bowler, except that time he was injured for a World Cup semi-final.

The story is that the board told Haroon Lorgat to include Philander, and then coach Russell Domingo had to try to convince big Vern that he’d been chosen because he was the best option. As if he would have believed what with those figures and his hamstring.

And what happened in the game? These were Vernon’s first six balls.

An 18 run over, more than two and a half the required rate. Now we don’t know what Abbott might have done, and there were players there that may have got their chances through the team looking to fill quotas. And South Africa lost that game for a lot of different reasons one of which was they used AB de Villiers as a bowler.

But there is a larger cricket truth to the quota system, while it may affect some teams in the short run. Over a long period, the more people in South Africa who are playing cricket, the larger the talent pool.

By South Africa only choosing from a small group, they’re turning themselves into a high functioning New Zealand. How good could they be if the entire country was playing the game at that high level? For all the politics and nonsense, that surely is the aim.

But by making it a number, they force bad outcomes. And them losing the semi-final is one. But I have long thought the worst one is that it means Kagiso Rabada has to play nearly all the time. Regardless of his skin colour, he would be in this team. But instead of South Africa being able to rest him, especially as he is the leading wicket taker it not only all international cricket in the last five years, but also the IPL for the last three.

What is worse is that Rabada has also bowled the most balls of any quick bowler in the last five years.

Being he gets paid more to play with the IPL than South Africa, the best thing CSA can do is manage him when he plays for them. CSA only have two certainties for the next five years in their team in he and de Kock, if Rabada gets injured from over bowling, there is no replacing that level of talent. And now de Kock’s future is in doubt because of many of the same issues, in a different way.

I don’t know what de Kock’s future is, I don’t know what his issues with kneeling are. Or if it’s that he doesn’t want to be told that he has to perform it. Not all players are that politically aware, some kept their views from Facebook or Tiktok, others are well read and come to their own conclusions.

But there is no way that de Kock doesn’t know about what happened at those hearings, About how non-white players have felt. About things his coach was involved with. And with all of that, he has repeatedly refused to show any solidarity with their gestures.

Now he might feel passionately against the Black Lives Matter protests. He is not the only person on the wrong side of that. And everyone’s lived in experience is completely different. At the moment all we know is he didn’t play and whatever his reasoning, he thought it was worth not appearing for his country at a World Cup.

I don’t agree with what de Kock has done, but he is as allowed to do what he has, as Colin Kaepernick was when he started kneeling. It is their careers, by making a statement, or in this case, refusing to join in on that statement, it is that call, even if I may agree with one and disagree with the other.

And all of this is weirder because on top of the obvious reasons why Cricket South Africa wants its players to take a knee, the Australians also shamed them a bit doing it. Especially as Australia is a country with its own racial issues.

I also don’t know about forcing South African cricketers to take the knee, the same way I don’t know whether quotas will have the positive impact they are intended for. But I know why this has come about.

This is about the systemic mistreatment of non-white people in South Africa society and cricket.

The non-white cricketers of South Africa, well they’ve been used as pawns by those trying to help and dealt with racism while feeling like outsiders in their sport. Even now they had to play under a coach who has now apologised for racist behaviour. And now it appears like their star player would rather sit than kneel with them.

You see a lot of comments under articles and videos about the problems of South African cricket and how they are going the way of Zimbabwe. The problem with South Africa cricket is not that they are going the way of Zimbabwe, it is that they started the same way.

The issue of Quinton de Kock and the kneeling is not the most important thing in South African cricket. The real issue that has been around since Krom was asked to carry bags.

The structure was wrong from the start, because the society was. Kneeling and quotas may not help, but ignoring the issues is far worse.

Let me finish with the words of Loots Bosman, the former South African batter, who spoke about what the treatment did to him during his career.

“It breaks you. Inside. You cry inside. You put on a brave face but inside you are so broken.”

That wasn’t in the 1800s, Bosman played in the same side as current members of this team. And at the end of his career he played domestically against Quinton de Kock.