His comments come in response to testimony given by ex-selector Hussein Manack on the lead-up to the Wanderers Test against England in 2015-16
“I asked on what basis. Rabada was 20 years old and he hadn’t established himself as a great player but having seen him at the Lions, where he was coming through, I had seen a lot of him. He had a good enough reputation. There was a cricketing explanation that maybe the ball wasn’t coming out of his hand right. I took it back to [bowling coach] Charl Langeveldt and … Charl’s view was that he was comfortable and everybody on the selection panel was unanimous that Rabada had to play. I said our decision is that Rabada has to play. There was one more spot that had to be filled. We said between Abbott and Viljoen, you decide who you want. We don’t have a strong view either way. In the end, they went for Viljoen and they weren’t happy with the fact that we had stood our ground.”
de Villiers told SportyPrediction that he had not wanted Rabada dropped. “I have never wanted KG dropped from any team at any time,” he said. “The idea is ridiculous. He is one of the finest bowlers in world cricket.”
Asked by the ombudsman, Dumisa Ntsebeza, if he thought Zondo’s exclusion was racially motivated, Manack was equivocal. “I sat with AB in the evening and I gave in. He did have some cricketing reasons, which did make sense. Some of the reasons were that we were effectively playing in a final. Do we want to play a young cricketer in a final against one of the noisiest crowds in the world?
“But maybe it was racially motivated. It’s difficult to escape that view. If one were to give the captain the benefit of the doubt, maybe he has a fair argument. If I look back at the last 15 or 20 years, very often captains protect their friends and buddies. They look after one another. That does happen.”
de Villiers did not deny that leaving Zondo out was his call but said he felt it was for the benefit of the team. “It is obviously difficult to pick apart selection discussions many years later, and recollections will vary. However, I can unequivocally state that my input to such discussions was always motivated only by what I considered to be best for the team, and nothing else.”
CSA did conduct an inquiry into Zondo’s exclusion and found that it was “unfair because it did not conform to the CSA policy”, Norman Arendse, a former board president, told the SJN. But CSA did not go as far as to say that Zondo was excluded on the basis of race.
“There were the allegations of racial discrimination but from the information that was provided to the task team, we found that there were cricketing reasons given for his inclusion and cricketing reasons given for his exclusion. It reflects on CSA too that we didn’t go the step further to find his exclusion was race-based. The task team didn’t find it necessary to make such a finding because we did find that it was unfair. As a lawyer, I was confined to the four corners of my brief, and on that we couldn’t make a finding that he was excluded because of the colour of his skin. We had a reasonable suspicion that that may well have been the case but a clear finding would not have been justified on the evidence placed before us.”
In hindsight, Manack said he felt responsible for Zondo’s exclusion. “I should have stood firm. I feel I let Khaya down. If you look at it, it was the same captain who was involved in the Rabada incident. There is a bit of a pattern that has developed over the years and you will find some names have come up over and over again. In this instance, I should have stood my ground. I want to acknowledge my part in what happened to Khaya. I take responsibility for it. I regret it.