South Africa’s then-chief selector says such a decision would have been “unethical to the players already selected”
Zondi appeared before Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) Social Justice and National-Building (SJN) committee to discuss various selections that took place under his watch. Specifically, Zondi went over the incident which saw a de Villiers’ return to the national side, a year after leaving the international game, shot down.
“What happened on the day was, because I wasn’t there, the selector on tour became the final decision-maker,” Zondi said. “I’m glad Hussein came and confessed that he had pressure put on him. I was clear with him that I was very unhappy with the decision.”
Zondi said Manack had called the selection panel on the previous evening and they agreed that Zondo would play. “He contacted us the night before saying JP is injured, so we will need a replacement. Secondly, we have David Miller who is not in form. The first thing we had to deal with was to fly in a replacement from South Africa. Because even if Khaya played, we still needed to have a back-up.
“We said fine, it’s not a difficult situation. Khaya must play. Khaya had been to India. He was in form. He was a batter, and the spot was in his position. He would not have been thrown in the deep end. It was a no-brainer. Khaya must play. It was made clear to Hussein that Khaya must play. In the morning, I turned on the TV and I saw Khaya was not playing.
“He [Hussein] shared the information with the captain AB de Villiers and according to Hussein, AB was unhappy. He sensed AB put him in a corner. He felt Dean Elgar, because of experience, should play, and Hussein gave in. When he gave in, he didn’t come back to me and said we are changing our decision. AB knew that I was a full-time convenor. At any stage, if the captain was not happy with the selection, he should have contacted me. The CEO [Haroon Lorgat] was on tour and the CEO himself entertained the discussion. The captain didn’t come to me, the CEO didn’t come to me. When the team came back to South Africa, I made sure the right process was followed and Khaya played in the next series.”
Despite that incident, and his frustration with de Villiers, Zondi said he never experienced any racism from de Villiers and “never had any issues with him in terms of him undermining me because I was a black convenor”.
By then, Zondi had joined the selection panel and been part of discussions over whether Tsolekile should play or de Kock should debut when Alviro Petersen was injured against Australia. Zondi’s view was that Tsolekile should play, but he was outvoted 3-2 on the selection panel. “I personally went to Graeme Smith to speak to him as a captain,” Zondi said. “I said to him that I believe it’s important we see Thami playing. To his credit, Smith said he will take the team from the convener and play that team. We voted on it and it ended up being 3-2, and then Thami didn’t play and wasn’t in the team given to Smith.”
Zondi maintained that during his time in selection he aimed to balance objectives between ensuring transformation goals were being met and that the South African team remained a world-class outfit. “I made sure that the black African players we picked were good enough; that they were world-class. And in doing so, we couldn’t put aside the white players who were doing well within the structures.
“We did very well in saying there was no white player who was good enough who never played. For example, [Rassie] van der Dussen, was one of those guys who were doing well in the franchise system and we played him. We had to make sure we created balance.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent