Can’t keep a good man down

Neil Manthorp  Р10/11/2002

For every official man-of-the-match award there is always an emotional one for the man that earns the greatest respect from the crowd and his team mates even if he didn’t produce the match-winning performance.

After South Africa’s three day victory over Sri Lanka at the Wanderers on Sunday the second award was far tougher to adjudicate than the first.

Nobody could seriously doubt Jacques Kallis’ merit as the official recipient of the title but there were three contenders for the “He’s the boy, give him a cigar” award. The outsider was Graeme Smith, bullish, aggressive batting that delighted the crowd on Saturday and four stinging catches in the slips. Good, but no cigar.

It’s just possible that Andrew Hall has the biggest heart in South African cricket and now that he doesn’t have the biggest waistline he’s looking more and more like a genuine, international class cricketer. “He certainly knows his way around a plate of food,” Rodney Ontong joked during a radio commentary stint, “but he’s worked incredibly hard on his fitness and now his body is in prime condition. He can bowl all day if he needs to.”

Batting at number nine and operating as the fifth member of a seam attack presents limited opportunities to shine but ‘Hally’ made the very, very best of the chances that came his way with an important innings of 31 and an astonishing match analysis of 5-20 including second innings figures that read like a typing error — 2-1-1-3!

Selection convenor Omar Henry admitted the Easterns all rounder had basically forced the selectors to pick him through sheer weight of performances that concluded with him being named Supersport Series Player of the Year. The infamous mugging and shooting incident which he survived a couple of years ago has made every match he plays that much more appreciated by his supporters. Good Hall, very good. But the cigar goes elsewhere.

Before this season began 37-year-old Steve Elworthy spoke to national selector Pat Symcox about his fierce determination to prove that his advanced years meant nothing in terms of performance. Symmo, who was also playing Test cricket at the age of 37, simply smiled. “You’re talking to the wrong man if you’re worried about age. And the selection convenor made his Test debut aged 40!” Symcox laughed.

Ever since then Elworthy has played his cricket with a clear mind, safe and reassured in the knowledge that he will be judged on performance and performance alone. Three years after the last of his two Tests, he was back in SA’s premier XI.

At the beginning of the 1999 World Cup a 33-year-old Elworthy told me he was going to “live and breath every moment because I’m not going to play in another World Cup!” Now there are just three months to go and Elworthy is close – very close.

The Wanderers ‘cigar award’ therefore goes to him, but if he makes the World Cup squad of 15 I’ll personally buy him an entire box of Cuba’s finest.

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