Nel was dropped while in the form of his life for Charl Langevelt. The stated reason was transformation. Charl wasn’t happy so they ended up taking another player of colour, his name eludes me for the moment.
I had a huge problem when Langeveldt refused to be considered because of the circumstances of his selection. For one thing, based purely on statistics, Langeveldt was as deserving a spot in the national team as Nel. His bowling average in ODIs was an impressive 28.46, just above Nel’s 27.68. Their economy and strike rates were also roughly similar. Langeveldt should have pointed out the obvious: Nel, like many insecure members of the majority, was using the affirmative-action bugaboo as an excuse to hide his own inadequacy.
But, more importantly, I didn’t like Langeveldt’s decision because it only reaffirmed the rigidly silly contours of the current debate over affirmative action, in which merit is always weighed against color (as if the two are mutually exclusive). Even if Langeveldt’s stats were that much worse than Nel’s, he could have argued that the way we measure merit wrongly excludes existing structural circumstances that make it harder for minority players to gain access to coaching resources and other sporting infrastructure, not to mention the national team itself. I’m not saying this means we should pick blatantly unqualified players — and Langeveldt, as I just said, wasn’t — but we should recognize at least that the playing field isn’t always level.