Facing the music

Traditional theatres and playhouses have an orchestra pit in front of the stage because, in times gone by, plays and musicals were always accompanied by live music. The prompter would sit down there, too, just in case somebody forgot their lines.

Nervous actors would be slapped on the back by heartless floor managers and told to “get out there and face the music.” That’s one version of where the saying comes from, anyway.

Another cites the British army tradition of court-martialing a disgraced officer. Having been convicted of whatever dastardly crime he was tried for, the disgraced officer would be expelled from his regiment to the mournful sound of a slow drum beat from the regimental band. He would be forced to walk past the drummers as he left – thus “facing the music.” It also, incidentally, gave us the phrase “to be drummed out…”

So, did Graeme Smith “face the music” after the wretched World Cup quarter final loss to New Zealand? Yes he bloody well did.

The pain on his face was the most tangible I have ever witnessed at close range on a sportsman. He was clearly in shock – in fact, I was actually reminded of the look on the face of the man who drove his car into mine, at considerable speed, early one morning in Namibia many years ago. Both vehicles were written off. There was blood. It was messy.

Smith fulfilled his duty by attending the press conference and answering all the hard questions. It was not the way he had dreamed of ending his ODI captaincy. It was not the result had so passionately believed was possible. But he kept his emotions in check and listened while the word choker was used half a dozen times. Only once did he display mild irritation when what started out as a question turned into a long, random and rambling attack on the frailties and failings of the national team.

So why was there so much rubbish written and said about his ‘failure’ to face the music by returning with the rest of the team? Remember, when he finished that press conference and walked out of the door in Dhaka, he ceased to be captain of the team, something he announced six months before the tournament was played. He would not even have been contractually bound to have attended a press conference on his return to South Africa – although I suspect he would have done because he never ducked an official media commitment in eight years as captain.

The reasons he was criticised for going to Ireland to propose to his girlfriend rather than returning home were entirely selfish. Those who said he was wrong were nothing more than peeved that they had been denied the opportunity to poke another stick into his cage and tease him, safe in the knowledge that he could neither fight nor, in most cases, even answer back.

We all needed someone to blame because, unfortunately, South African sport (and therefore most of us in it – including supporters) exist in a ‘blame culture.’ Instead of looking for solutions, we seek out those responsible for problems. We point fingers, we blame, we fire somebody and appoint his successor. Then we do it all over again when the next man doesn’t get the results we desire.

OK, blame somebody. The captain is an obvious choice – especially because he chews gum in an annoying manner. Blame him.

But at the age of 30 he hasn’t even reached his peak as a batsman and South African cricket will be a much poorer institution without him for the next five or so years.

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