In 12 Test matches against Australia before the recent tour Down Under and the Wanderers defeat, South Africa had Australia seriously on the ropes on 20 occasions, depending on your definition of ‘seriously’. A first innings score of 35-3 may not be as serious as 90-6 but, either way, somebody would always step forward to rescue the Australian innings.
And if they were bowled out for 200, Shane Somebody or Glenn Somebody would ensure that South Africa were bowled out for 175. But even when Shane and Glenn couldn’t get the job done, Brett Lee or Jason Gillespie would. And if it wasn’t Damien Martin or Adam Gilchrist counter-attacking with the bat, it would be…Andy Bichel, anybody!
It was one thing for the individuals in Australian squads of the past to believe in themselves, but quite another when they truly knew that they also believed in each other. The third step towards the greatness and invincible reputation which they created, however, was inspiring the same believe in the people around them – from management to gatemen and humble supporters.
It’s a straightforward process, basically. Keep winning on a regular basis and the whole thing will take care of itself, it will happen naturally. The more a team wins the more ‘layers’ of confidence are wrapped around it’s players, guarding against possible moments of self-doubt.
When an Australian player between 1996 and 2006 made five single figure scores in a row, or failed to take a wicket for three Test matches, he team mates would look him in the eye and assure him that it was just a matter of time. The gatemen at the stadium would assure him that he was a match-winner and, for the most part, even fans with too much beer in them at the end of the day would offer a back-handed compliment – (‘ya might be playing like a pork chop at the moment, Boony, but we love ya and we know ya’ll be back.’)
After the Wanderers defeat I was left with the impression from many supporters, and even some more closely involved with the game, that the new ‘golden era’ had ended and that, perhaps, horribly, the team’s series victory in Australia was a glorious fluke and that we were about to return to the normality of the last 15 years.
It’s a pity if that is the mood, but understandable. After all, it took 96 years to win in Australia for the first time and there won’t be many supporters under the age of 50 with a meaningful recollection of the last time SA beat Australia on these shores. So we revert to the familiar, take solace from our ability to greet defeat with a manful shrug of the shoulders and a sharp comment about ‘next time’ – even before defeat has arrived!
I believe South Africa can win in Durban and I believe they can win in Cape Town, too. Neil McKenzie, Paul Harris and Morne Morkel will benefit from the hotel porter’s nod and wink in Durban because, although they still believe in themselves and still have the confidence of their team mates, it helps no end if they know they are reminded that they don’t exist in a vacuum. They still need to win to create the ‘aura’ and the bullet-proof confidence levels of Steve Waugh’s team, but it would help, just a little, if the people around them didn’t immediately forget the might of the triumph in Australia and didn’t meekly expect the worst after one set-back.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.