Tony Becca | Smiles for Ali Bacher and company
One Sunday morning somewhere around June 1980 during the Lord's Test match, I met Ali Bacher, former South African captain and then CEO of the South Africa Cricket Union (SACU), and Jeff Dakin, representing Joe Pamensky, president of the SACU, at the Selfridge hotel along Oxford Street in London to discuss apartheid and South Africa's attempt to return to international cricket.
After a while, Bacher said to me: "Tony, would you like to play cricket for the West Indies simply because you are a black man?"
I looked at him and said, "No way. I would have loved to have played for the West Indies, but only if I could, and only if I really deserved it."
Bacher looked at Dakin, and they both looked at me: "That's exactly how we feel. We don't feel that anyone who does not deserve to play for South Africa should be selected to play for South Africa, regardless of the colour of his skin."
Ali Bacher and company must be smiling today.
In 1991, while on a visit to South Africa to attend the banquet to launch the new United Cricket Board of South Africa, I went to a cricket club in Soweto for the start of a programme to really spread cricket throughout the "townships".
Soweto, a few miles outside of Johannesburg, was one of the sites of the black townships, and as Sobers, Sunil Gavaskar, and a handful of former South African players moved about the gathering of young black boys chatting and laughing, Bacher turned up by my side and whispered softly, "Give them some time, and one day, some of them will be representing South Africa."
Bacher figured that they had started something that would get all of South Africa - whites, coloureds, Indians, and blacks - involved in playing cricket and that by playing the game and by getting good at it, they would eventually transform the colour of the South African cricket team.
I have been to South Africa twice since, and the "natives"have been playing cricket - plenty of them. They are getting better and better, and they are now representing South Africa.
People such as Bacher, Dakin, Pamensky, and a black man named Khaya Majola, who is now deceased, opposed compulsory inclusion, and they opposed it because they wanted the best team to represent their country.
OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL
Today, 26 years after that morning in Soweto, the numbers playing recognised cricket are huge. They are coming in one by one, two by two, and they are getting into the teams, not through the back door and through preferential treatment, but through performance.
They are matching their skills with the Whites.
Makhaya Ntini, a black player who played in 101 Test matches for South Africa, has been one of South Africa's greatest ever fast bowler, with 390 wickets; Hashim Amla, an Indian, has been one of their greatest batsmen, playing in 109 Test matches and scoring 8,578 runs; and Herschelle Gibbs and Ashwell Prince, two of their coloured batsmen, were as good as they come.
And there were quite a few more batsmen, including Rodney Ontong and Justin Ontong, and also a wicketkeeper named Thami Tsolelite.
While the art of spin bowling has been represented by the likes of Paul Adams, Aaron Phangiso, and Imran Tahir, fast bowling is well represented by the likes of not only Ntini and Vernon Phillander, but also by others like Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Monde Zondeki, and Mthokolzisi Shezi who have worn the South African cap with distinction.
And probably in batsman Temba Bavuna, a 21-year-old youngster who scored a century on his Test debut against England recently, and Kagiso Rabada, the 21-year-old fast bowler who took 13 wickets in one Test match, also against England, recently, and who scared the daylights out of West Indian batsmen during the Tri-Nations a couple of years ago, the best of the blacks have just arrived.
To top it all, Prince captained South Africa in 2006, and Amla gave up the captaincy after leading the team against England recently for no other reason than he believed that it was affecting his batting
South Africa has come a long way since apartheid and since 1991. Bacher, Dakin, and Pamensky must be proud. They did it mostly without compulsory selection, and the 76 per cent blacks must be happy.
The South Africans seemed to have forgotten the earlier call for compulsory selection for a while, but it came back a couple of years ago, and especially after they were knocked out of the World Cup after failing to use the opportunity to play a black player after one of their star players was injured for the semi-final match.
The black cricketers called on Norman Arendse, chairman of the transformation committee, to look into the problem again, and sports minister Fikile Mbalulas said that compulsory selection must be done urgently.
That was in September 2016, and the ruling called for a maximum of five Whites on every national team on an average, with the other six places consisting of at least three black Africans. The previous rule had called for four players of colour in every team with at least one black player.
In beating Australia in the Tri-Nations in the West Indies, recently, after September 2016, South Africa fielded eight players of colour.
Although a quota is in place, it seems not to matter.
The shoe is now on the other foot, to the point where two white players - Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw - have left South Africa and are now playing for Hampshire under the Kolpak agreement.
Looking at South Africa's team, blacks, coloureds, and Indians are getting up in numbers, and looking at the Ram Slam T20 Challenge, they are all over the place. They are up and down the order, batsmen and bowlers, and they are more than holding their own.
It is a situation that must have left Bacher and company smiling.
"I told you so," may well be what Ali Bacher and company are saying now, and also Khaya Majola, if he were alive.
The blacks and others are everywhere in South African cricket, and they are now in partial control as administrators, umpires, writers, commentators, players, and even as spectators.
Places like Newlands in Cape Town and the Wanderers in Johannesburg are now filled with coloured cricketers and coloured spectators.