Former South African pacer Lonwabo Tsotsobe has made a massive allegation against Graeme Smith - one of the greatest batsmen and captains of the men’s national cricket team - accusing him of racism stating that the legendary left-hander had threatened to retire if Thami Tsolekile was selected as wicket-keeper in the senior team.
Tsolekile was considered as a prodigy in South Africa as a youngster and represented the country in three Tests in 2004 making his debut against India in Kanpur. He had a good first-class record with 5844 runs in 160 matches at an average of 30.43 with six hundreds. According to Tsotsobe, Tsolekile was slated to replace Mark Boucher as South Africa’s Test keeper in 2012 but that position was handed to AB de Villiers.
“Tsolekile was destined to replace Boucher but suddenly AB de Villiers was made the keeper. Wicketkeeper is a specialist position that needed a specialist which De Villiers is not," stated Tsotsobe.
Tsotsobe added that the selection of De Villiers as keeper was a deliberate move by Smith who wanted to exclude a black player from the XI.
“The idea of assigning keeping duties to De Villiers was to block the selection of a black player in the fold of Tsolekile. This was confirmed by Smith who categorically stated that if Tsolekile was selected he would retire with immediate effect," added Tsotsobe.
Smith has vociferously denied these baseless allegations and stated that there was competition for the one wicket-keeper’s position at the time and that he had given his choice to the selectors as to who he thought was the best possible candidate for South Africa.
“The allegations and insinuations that have been made are extremely hurtful and I deny them in the strongest possible sense. Unfortunately, Thami was a wicket-keeper, 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.”
Smith added that AB de Villiers was the first choice wicket-keeper at the time (in England in 2012) and Tsolekile had been communicated on his role as reserve keeper in the squad.
“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," added Smith.
Smith who is currently the Director of South African cricket, captained South Africa for 11 years between 2003 and 2014.
Tsotsobe played 89 internationals for South Africa between 2009 and 2014. He was a fine ODI bowler returning with 94 wickets in just 60 innings at an average of 24.96 and strike rate of 31.5.