Cricket in South Africa and Its Debt to Nelson Mandela

Antoinette MullerFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 07:  A moment of silence in tribute of  Nelson Mandela before the game between the New York Islanders and the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on December 7, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Imagine a world without a South African cricket team. Imagine a world without the likes of Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander, Paul Adams and Makhaya Ntini having graced the international stage. Isn't it scary to think that just a over 22 years ago, that world was a reality and, today, if it weren't for Nelson Mandela, the world would have been a different place.

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's father, Africa's greatest son and one of the world's icons in the struggle for freedom and equality passed away on 5 December 2013. The country is in mourning and the world is collectively bowing its head. Mandela's role in rugby and the impact he had on the national rugby team is well documented, but his impact on the cricketers of South Africa isn't often spoken about.

First, it is important to understand that if it weren't for Mandela and all his fellow struggle icons, international sport would not have returned to South Africa. It was because of him, all that he sacrificed and fought for that South Africa was allowed to return to international cricket. It is because of him that players with a different colour skin can represent their country. It's something that seems quite ordinary to some, but it's quite extraordinary in South Africa.

His direct impact on cricket in the country ranges from a simple comment made to the press in 1991, when South Africa had just been readmitted by the ICC, to taking his time to interact with players and speak to the team before major events. His legacy also inspired the current South African team to find their identity in a country fractured from wrongs of the past. His stature, his impact and his influence on others cannot be underestimated. His resilience and his forgiveness is something which has helped the current Proteas team work towards finding a united cause.

Mandela understood the importance of sport. He knew that sport goes beyond the power of governments to breaking down racial barriers and bringing people together. One common cause is found through sport and Mandela is one of the few politicians who believed in that and truly understood it. He often said that sports can speak a language far beyond that of politicians.

That's why, despite Sunday being official declared a day of prayer and remembrance in South Africa, it was completely right to continue with the India series. After all, it is these two teams who first contested the Friendship Cup. To honour Mandela's legacy, there is no better way than to do it through something he helped create. There is no better way to honour him than through something he loved dearly.