South Africa’s ODI captain AB de Villiers has confirmed in his autobiography that is being launched on Thursday that Vernon Philander was a late inclusion in the team that lost last year’s World Cup semifinal, but stops short of calling it “interference” or revealing who made the call, and says it was not the reason for their agonising loss to New Zealand.
‘So what had happened? Had Vernon‚ who was officially classified as coloured‚ been selected ahead of Kyle‚ who was officially white‚ to ensure there were four players of colour in the semifinal?’
Philander had struggled with a hamstring injury the whole tournament but was brought into the side in place of Kyle Abbott, who had been South Africa’s best seamer. Philander’s inclusion lifted the number of players of colour in the team to four, but the Proteas had fielded three in the quarterfinal and in several other matches at the World Cup.
“It was generally assumed the same team [that beat Sri Lanka in the quarterfinal] would be named to play in the semifinal‚” De Villiers writes in AB: the Autobiography. “That was my expectation as captain until I was called to a meeting at 5.30pm on the evening before the match‚ half-an-hour before our usual team meeting was due to start‚ and was told Vernon Philander‚ who had passed his fitness test a few days earlier‚ would play instead of Kyle Abbott.”
‘None of us within the squad was counting. I sincerely believe we were genuine new South Africans, blind to race and colour.’
“I knew about the Proteas convention that an incumbent player who is injured will automatically go back into the team when he returns to fitness‚ and ‘Vern’ was an incumbent‚” De Villiers writes. “Vernon and Dale had been our regular opening bowlers and were earmarked to lead our regular attack, and I sensed the selectors thought Vernon would thrive in New Zealand conditions. Even so‚ it seemed to me‚ there would have been other considerations.
“None of us within the squad was counting. I sincerely believe we were genuine new South Africans, blind to race and colour. As far as I was concerned, it was just the strongest possible team representing our country,” De Villiers writes.
“We had been assured that Cricket South Africa was the only national sporting governing body in the country that had declined to set a target for the number of players of colour to be included in the national team, but there was a delicate balance to be struck, and it was generally understood that, as they chose the side, the national selectors would be conscious of working towards providing opportunities for at least four players of colour,” De Villiers says.
“So what had happened? Had Vernon‚ who was officially classified as coloured‚ been selected ahead of Kyle‚ who was officially white‚ to ensure there were four players of colour in the semifinal? Or had the decision been made for purely cricketing reasons?
“It depressed me even to think of my teammates in these outdated racial terms, as white or coloured, but three players of colour had played in the quarterfinal, so could three players of colour play in the semifinal, or was that not the case?”
De Villiers does go on to say Philander’s selection was not the reason they lost the game, pointing to lapses in the field and the fact that only leg-spinner Imran Tahir was more economical than Philander.