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Why we picked Graeme Smith over Thami Tsolekile as Proteas captain, Omar Henry explains

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Former national selector Omar Henry has explained why Graeme Smith was picked as Proteas captain over Thami Tsolekile.

Former Proteas batsman Thami Tsolekile. File picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth

OMAR Henry told Cricket SA’s Social Justice and Nation-building inquiry that Graeme Smith was made captain of South Africa instead of Thami Tsolekile because the former performed better than Tsolekile at that time.

Tsolekile had been Smith’s captain when the pair were together in the South African Under-19 team at the 2000 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup. Just over three years later, in the wake of the Proteas early exit from the 2003 World Cup, Smith was made captain of the senior Proteas team. Henry was the chairman of selectors at the time.

“Smith in my view performed better than Thami,” Henry said.

“Thami had been identified as someone who could captain South Africa.”

Tsolekile has made a written submission to the SJN. Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, the SJN’s ombudsman, asked how Henry would respond to Tsolekile, about him being overlooked for the South African team’s captaincy, given he had been Smith’s captain at junior level.

“Thami, in his role then as wicketkeeper/batsman wasn’t that strong a candidate to be selected (for the SA team). There was a position open in the batting order and Thami only came in afterwards.”

Henry’s testimony was the first by an ex-player who represented South Africa post the unification of the sport.

The SJN project was established last year after a call by Lungi Ngidi for the Proteas to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement exposed an undercurrent of racism within South African cricket.

Smith was made captain in 2003, and was in the position for two years already when Tsolekile made his Test debut in India in 2004. “I selected Thami for the SA A side that went to Zimbabwe and Australia and it was after those two tours that he narrowed the gap for selection to the national team.”

Henry said the first he’d heard of the incidents of discrimination within the side while he was convenor was last year when a number of black players met with the then Cricket SA president Chris Nenzani via a Zoom call.

“I asked (Thami), why did he never tell me about these things that he went through on his journey. What I heard was that guys didn’t want to speak out because they were scared they would get dropped. These are all lessons that we must learn,” Henry added.

The SJN commission will hear this week from players who represented the Proteas, including Aaron Phangiso, Thandi Tshabalala, Alviro Petersen and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

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