SJN hearings – Linda Zondi on why he turned down AB de Villiers when he wanted to return for 2019 World Cup

SJN hearings – Linda Zondi on why he turned down AB de Villiers when he wanted to return for 2019 World Cup


South Africa’s then-chief selector says such a decision would have been “unethical to the players already selected”

AB de Villiers‘ availability for the 2019 World Cup was brought to the attention of South Africa’s then-chief selector Linda Zondi two days before the squad was announced, but was turned down because it would’ve been unfair on 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.

“When AB took a break [in 2017], he didn’t share the information with me,” Zondi said. “I contacted him and said I wasn’t happy with what you have done and he apologised. Then there was the World Cup, which was a massive story. The captain [Faf du Plessis] came to me and said AB would like to be included in the World Cup. I turned it down because AB had earlier come to me and said he wanted to retire and I told him [then] we need you in the World Cup in England. If there are certain series you miss, we can work with that. I said I am happy to manage your time and you can retire after the World Cup. He said no, he wants to retire. Then, Faf came that AB wanted to return. I turned it down. I thought it was unethical to the players who were part of the squad.”
Zondi also provided more detail on the case of Khaya Zondo, whose non-selection has become, over the course of the hearings, a central illustration of the complexities of selection in South Africa over the years.
Former selector Hussein Manack has already claimed at the hearings that de Villiers blocked Zondo’s selection for an ODI against India.

“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.”

In a response to ESPNcricinfo in August, de Villiers did not deny that leaving Zondo out was his call but said he felt it was for the benefit of the team. “It is obviously difficult to pick apart selection discussions many years later, and recollections will vary. However, I can unequivocally state that my input to such discussions was always motivated only by what I considered to be best for the team, and nothing else.”

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”.

Zondi also spoke of his experience over the exclusion of Thami Tsolekile from the Test team in the 2013-14 season. Tsolekile was nationally contracted and identified as Mark Boucher’s successor in 2012 but did not play in series in England or Australia because de Villiers was preferred. Tsolekile was told by then convenor Andrew Hudson that he would play in the following home series against New Zealand but de Villiers chose to stay on as wicketkeeper, before Quinton de Kock made his debut in February 2014.

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.”

The panel at the time consisted of Hudson, former national player Shafiek Abrahams, Zondi, Manack and national coach Russell Domingo. Zondi and Manack voted in favour of Tsolekile playing while the other three voted against it. None of Hudson, who serves on CSA’s board currently, Abrahams or Domingo are due to testify at the SJN.

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

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