Black pepper ice-cream

Everyone gets stuck in a rut. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Sultan of Brunei, Nicky Oppenheimer or the bloke who heads up the World Food Programme, being absurdly wealthy or working for a good cause doesn’t get you through every minute of every day with a bullet-proof feeling of satisfaction and contentment. Apparently. Although I’d like to try.

Apparently, even the Sultan of Brunei gets bored with the idea of having whatever he wants, at any time. And as the Oppenheimers will testify, wealth brings responsibility – there are thousands of people with jobs and families to support who depend on good business practise.

Even monks get a little bored and fed-up with the task of devoting their lives to God every day. I know, I spent a couple of weeks with the Benedictines and it wasn’t all plain sailing. Believe it or not, a monk can be just as grumpy as the next person after waking up at 4.30am, even if he has been doing it for 25 years.

The life of a professional cricketer is pretty good though, isn’t it? At least, it is at international level. Well paid, lots of perks, see the world…and the actual job, of course, is what you love doing anyway. Of course, Premiership footballers are a little better paid. About 50 times better paid than South Africa’s.

Nonetheless, like monks and millionaires, there are moments when cricketers also lack just a little bit of enthusiasm, despite the wonderful lives they lead. Just little moments, of course, and they usually pass quickly.

The Aid worker stays awake 48 hours to ensure fair distribution of grain only to see a man charging starving mothers and children ‘tax’ on their meagre allowance. Lose a bit of enthusiasm for the job. Millionaire discovers loyal secretary of 15 years has had his hands in the cookie jar. Lose a bit of enthusiasm for being rich. Cricket team travels to Leicester and Derby for two meaningless one-day games against England ‘A’… Of course it doesn’t compare – just a bit of harmless hyperbole.

Rarely, however, has a Proteas XI looked flatter than they did at Derby last Saturday. It was cold, grey and windy and the pitch was the cricketing equivalent of the old man in the corner of the pub with the same 6.00pm pint of ale he’s been having after work for 30 years.

It felt like an indecent fixture following the Test series triumph, like a taxi coming to collect you from a New Year’s party at 11.00pm.

So how does a team get ‘up’ for a match when, clearly, they aren’t really ‘up’ for it? The first thing they try is to say all the right things like ‘If playing for your country isn’t enough motivation then nothing will be.’ That’s good. It’s certainly better than ‘Actually, we’ve got a lot on our minds outside of cricket, quite a few of us are already thinking about going home, the weather is absolute crap and we’re struggling with the idea of a five match series that doesn’t really affect anything…’

South Africa will come right before the first game at Headingley on Friday. Or perhaps they’ll come right after the first game. If they don’t they may well lose the series. What they need, perhaps, is something completely different to whet their cricketing appetite, something to make their eyes open wide and chests bulge with determination.

If they were struggling to enjoy their food I would suggest black pepper ice-cream. Graeme Smith and Mickey Arthur face the task of finding the cricketing equivalent. And I have no doubt they will.

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