Acceptable defeat…sort of

Professional sportsmen will tell you about the importance of chance. Not luck or fortune, but chance as in possibility.

The top golfers in the world don’t play for money – they have enough of that to give their grandchildren financial security for life, never mind themselves. The reason they keep playing is for the thrill of the ‘chance’ – the chance of victory.

Retief Goosen broke an unwritten rule a couple of years ago when he admitted to losing all interest in a golf tournament once his chance was gone. To him, it made no difference whether he shot 68 or 82 on the final day if there was no chance of winning and he didn’t care if he finished second or 72nd. It’s OK to feel like that – you’re just not supposed to say it!

Goosen accepts that he can’t win every week, but defeat hurts so much less if he has experienced ‘the chance’ on the final day. To be on the leaderboard, or at least close to it, is what matters.

It doesn’t even have to be a ‘good’ chance, or even a realistic one, but if Goosen needs to make two eagles and three birdies and shoot 29 on the back nine, at least he has a chance.

And so it was with Smith and his team on the final day of the fourth Test at The Oval. They started with a chance thanks to the mighty efforts of AB de Villiers and Paul Harris the previous day. If England’s target had been 70 runs then the tourists would have had no chance whatsoever and nothing makes a professional more despondent than being forced to go through the motions.

Of course, it helps a great deal when you have already won the series…

“It was one of the easier defeats to swallow,” Smith admitted afterwards. “I don’t like saying that because I hate losing but, if you have to lose a Test match then I suppose doing it in a dead rubber is the way to go.”

Smith’s conduct has captain on this tour has been exceeded in quality only by the innings he played to win the series at Edgbaston and he deserves the week’s rest he has ordered for himself immediately after The Oval contest finished.

It was only the third time he has played in a ‘dead’ match in 70 Tests – the first two were against the West Indies, home and away, and resulted in a victory and a high-scoring, slightly farcical draw. Now the defeat to complete the set. As Smith said, the result was understandable but not acceptable. Most South Africa fans, however, would happily trade the loss for the series win.

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