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Ken Borland

Tsolekile not selected for cricketing reasons, not Smith racism

Posted on May 23, 2022 by Ken

The independent arbitration panel that cleared Graeme Smith of racism allegations found that Thami Tsolekile was not selected to replace Mark Boucher in 2012 for cricketing reasons, saying the wicketkeeper/batsman himself accepted that AB de Villiers being chosen ahead of him was better for the team.

Tsolekile testified at the arbitration in support of Cricket South Africa’s claim that Smith had used his influence as captain to persuade the selectors not to include Tsolekile based on his race, after Boucher suffered the eye injury that ended his career.

But while finding that Smith, the Proteas longest-serving and most successful Test captain, did have an influence on selection, the arbitrators, advocates Ngwako Maenetje SC and Michael Bishop, ruled that he did not actively seek to exclude Tsolekile because of his race. Instead they found “it is more likely that Smith just wanted his team to win”.

Andrew Hudson, the convenor of selectors at the time and current CSA Board member, and Linda Zondi, who was also a selector before succeeding Hudson as the convenor, gave evidence that De Villiers had been selected for the tour to England in 2012 as the reserve wicketkeeper and both the selectors and coach Gary Kirsten agreed that De Villiers replacing Boucher behind the stumps would allow them to play an extra specialist batsman in JP Duminy, himself Black.

Smith was consulted about the decision and agreed with the strategy.

In Paragraph 90 of their findings, the arbitrators state: “Tsolekile … agreed with the proposition that this was ‘a strategy that will make complete sense and was something which played very strongly in favour of the Proteas cricket team’. He accepted that there were ‘very good cricketing reasons to prefer AB de Villiers to yourself for the position in the Test starting XI’.”

CSA then tried to change their argument and alleged Smith was guilty of discrimination by omission because he had an obligation to speak out on behalf of Tsolekile because the wicketkeeper/batsman was previously disadvantaged.

But the arbitrators found this change of tack was prejudicial to Smith, describing it as “a trap sprung on him” and they also criticised CSA for making submissions that were inconsistent with the facts.

The arbitrators did have sympathy for Tsolekile, describing his non-selection as “unfair” and his subsequent involvement in a matchfixing scandal as only “exacerbating the tragedy” of his story of adversity.

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