Graeme Smith has defended himself against allegations of racial discrimination during his 11-year tenure as South Africa captain. The legendary captain’s reaction has come after former wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile joined Makhaya Ntini and Ashwell Prince in stating that he was racially discriminated.
In the second of a three-part interview with Marawa Sports Worldwide, Tsolekile took a direct aim at Graeme Smith after the latter earlier told media he did not know the extent of the difficulties players of colour faced. Tsolekile played three Tests for South Africa.
“Graeme Smith, you have divided us in a manner that I never had any hope of playing for the Proteas under your leadership. And there was no unity in the team.
“Graeme Smith, I’m sure you’re aware that [former selection convener] Linda Zondi, the puppet, once said I deserve to play. But his opinion wouldn’t have mattered because you were so powerful,” he said on Tuesday.
In particular, Tsolekile referred to his own experience of being nationally contracted and identified as Mark Boucher’s successor in 2012, only to be sidelined when Boucher was injured in England. He did not get the chance to keep the wickets as South African team-management asked AB de Villiers to don the wicketkeeping gloves. Recalling the incident, Tsolekile said it was ‘pure racism’.
Graeme Smith responds:
Denying the allegations levelled by Tsolekile, Graeme Smith stated that race did not play a role in the decision to replace Boucher with de Villiers. He also stated that Tsolekile was in the squad as a backup to de Villiers and it was told to him by the-then coach Gary Kirsten.
“In the case of the 2012 tour to England, which Thami has alluded to, there was a whole panel of selectors. Thami was in the squad as reserve keeper to AB de Villiers and this was communicated to him on both the England and Australian tours by Gary Kirsten, which has been previously acknowledged by Thami,” he posted in a statement on Instagram.
“Unfortunately, Thami was a wicketkeeper, which meant he was always only fighting for one position. I can understand how frustrating that must have been, and there have been several other excellent wicket-keepers that South African cricket never saw on an international stage, because keepers tend to stay in a team for long periods of time. That is also an international trend, not unique to South Africa,” added Graeme Smith.
Tsolekile, who was on air again shortly after Graeme Smith’s statement was issued, dismissed the claim that he was back-up to de Villiers, and said he understood that he was due take over from Boucher.
“It’s a lie. They picked Mark Boucher as a keeper and I was told I was the reserve keeper,” Tsolekile said on air. “I was playing for the South African A side (in England) When Mark Boucher got injured and the selectors called me. I was Mark Boucher’s deputy.”
Graeme Smith also pointed to other players who were left out of the team during his time in charge purely for cricketing reasons. He stated how the likes of Lance Klusener and Shaun Pollock were dropped from the team when he took over.
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