South African cricket was controlled by a clique of white players nicknamed "the big five," according to former fast bowler Roger Telemachus. Testifying at the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings, Telemachus explained how the moniker was coined at the 2007 World Cup, where he was part of the squad but did not play a game.
"That is where the big five started. They control selection. They control everything. They used to go to the coach and say this is how we are going to play. This is where we gave the name to these players," Telemachus said.
He did not name which players made up the clique but when asked to confirm its make-up, Telemachus said: "This is a group of white players."
This is not the first time a clique has been mentioned in South African cricket. Herschelle Gibbs wrote about a group of players who controlled the national team in his autobiography in 2010 and the recent and turbulent overhaul of Cricket South Africa (CSA) also included references to a small set of players wielding all the power.
Telemachus claimed the clique was partly responsible for his being reduced to a passenger at the World Cup 14 years ago, but he also indicated there was political interference.
"A week before the semi-final I was told I will definitely be playing the semi-final. I asked the coach what was the reason and he said one of our fast bowlers has a niggle," Telemachus said. "But before that, Makhaya Ntini was out of form and the day before, apparently, they (team management) got an email from CSA that the ANC (African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party) are putting pressure on them because there are no black African cricketers in the team.
"That is the reason why the coach came to me and said, 'Sorry, this is the story, unfortunately you can't play.' He showed me the mail. My question to them was why can't Roger Telemachus and Makhaya Ntini play together in the semi-final? No answers, nothing happened. I was left out. I called my family and told them I am going to play and they should watch out for me. And then I was told I wouldn't play. I almost got physical with that coach. The assistant coach had to stop me. I was furious, I was hurt."
Incidentally, neither Telemachus nor Ntini played in that match against Australia, which South Africa lost by seven wickets.
Ntini was dropped for the previous game against England and was not brought back into the team for the knockout match after struggling through the tournament. Telemachus had not played an ODI since September 2006, did not feature at the World Cup and never played again for South Africa. He claims he was given no explanation for why he was left out. "When I confronted them, they couldn't give me answers. Even when we returned from West Indies I never got answers."
Asked how he thought the clique was formed, Telemachus said, "they were good friends off the cricket field, good friends on the cricket field, they had their social lives together, even when there weren't tours. That was how they hooked up and discussed things."
While the SJN aims to provide a platform for those involved in cricket to recount historical incidents of racial discrimination, it is also looking at any continuing bias in the game today.
Telemachus recently lost his position as coach of the Kwa-Zulu Natal provincial union to the Dolphins coach Imraan Khan. This has been the norm since the dissolution of the franchise system last summer. Franchise coaches are taking over at most of the bigger provincial teams.
The Dolphins used to have two feeder teams linked to them - Kwa-Zulu Natal Coastal and Kwa-Zulu Natal Inland. The Inland team has appointed Michael Smith, the former head coach of Martizburg College. Telemachus, who has a Level 4 coaching certificate, took aim at the process South African teams use to appoint a coach, which he said was not based on credentials.
"The appointment of the national coach is unfair," he said. "The guy was never asked for an interview. He was appointed by the director of cricket (Graeme Smith). I've got no issues with Mark Boucher. I've got no issues with the guy who has been appointed KZN-Inland coach (Michael Smith). I have got issues with people who made these decisions."
The SJN hearings are due to run for the next two weeks after which transformation ombudsman Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, will produce a report and recommendations to CSA.