621 reasons not think of the past

Given how easily distracted national teams have been in past years, it is pertinent to note that a national English newspaper published a huge story about Hansie Cronje, and posed some unpalatable questions, on the same day that Graeme Smith’s XI won at Lord’s by an innings and 92 runs.

And the players barely noticed – and were even less interested. Through sheer power of performance Smith and Makhaya Ntini have physically ripped the minds and hearts of a sluggish nation into the new era.

In 1994, when South Africa won by a similarly huge margin, the victory was spoiled. The distracting scandal involved Michael Atherton interfering with the condition of the ball and subsequently came to be called the “Dirt in Pocket affair”. But it wasn’t the England captain that spoiled the party, it was some of the South African players for allowing the nonsense into their heads.

Nobody remembers that 356-run victory today for the media carnage that enveloped a beleaguered Atherton, or for the newspaper headlines that focused exclusively on him rather than Kepler Wessels or Allan Donald, they remember it for the occasion and the joy of a brilliant victory.

This time, in 2003, there was another chance to be distracted, to allow the past to spoil the present, and Smith’s team sailed serenely by.

At a function on Monday night (many thanks to Castle and MTN – seriously, it was a great success and special occasion for many people) Smith told his team, again, to celebrate the victory but to be humble, too. And they did, and they were.

But there is no escaping the fact that Smith’s ‘impossible’ total of 621 runs in three innings was the catalyst for a massive change in approach, attitude and outlook from the entire squad, senior and junior players alike.

Herschelle Gibbs is unlikely to suggest his new captain is “still learning” or that the team “misses Hansie” any time soon. The direction under Graeme Smith is forward, not backwards.

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