‘My life revolves around respect’

The toss, the pitch, the batting, the bowling and the catching all played their roles in the outcome of the first test and they will be debated in the days to come.

It was particularly pertinent that Ricky Ponting admitted after the match that “it was a good toss to lose.”

He also admitted that he, too, would have chosen to bat first despite a pitch that looked tailor-made for the seamers and skies that brooded with gun-metal grey. So it’s probably unfair to blame Graeme Smith for his decision to bat first. More pertinent, perhaps, would be to examine some of the top order batsmen’s defensive techniques.

Even more relevant, however, might be the acknowledgement that having ‘respect’ for an opponent puts you halfway towards beating him – certainly in cricket if not some other sports.

The Newlands Test was played in an obvious atmosphere of respect. Even the most ostentatious exchanges of views never looked ugly or angry and the players from both sides smiled or nodded in acknowledgement when outplayed.

Mark Boucher’s admission before the series began that he had “lost respect” for some of the Australian players was received with sadness and confusion rather than anger in the tourists’ dressing room and one man who will be particularly pleased that relations have been repaired is opening batsmen Justin Langer.

“There’s been a lot of talk but my recollection was that the Test series was played in a pretty good spirit. It was great to have a drink with the South Africans after the series in Sydney, and that’s the way it should be,” Langer said on arrival in South Africa.

“The Ashes was played absolutely cut-throat on the field – it was the hardest Test cricket I’ve played since my debut against the West Indies in 1993 – but the spirit was awesome. I imagine it was like the olden days, we got beaten two-one but after every Test match we had a drink with the English guys and it was a brilliant memory. We lost but I wouldn’t exchange that series for anything,” Langer said.

“There’s a great old saying in sport – the best thing is to play and win but the second best thing is to play and lose, as long as you’re still playing. I hope that was the case with the South Africans, they lost the series but I’d like to think they enjoyed it because that’s why we play Test cricket, for the really hard, tough competition that it provides.”

Langer’s eyes glazed over a little when I asked him about Boucher’s comments. Apparently, he was one of the men for whom Boucher had lost respect.

“I was disappointed,” he said, obviously understating. “I must have missed something – I’m serious, I must have missed something. I just don’t know where those comments came from, especially the part about respect.

“My whole world revolves around respect, it’s as simple as that. So when I read those words they really upset me. I have massive respect for the South Africans.

“Jacques Kallis, great player, one of the all-time greats. Same with Shaun Pollock, an all-time great player. Herschelle Gibbs is one of the most exciting players in world cricket. Mark Boucher, what he’s done for South African cricket is enormous. He’s going to break all sorts of records and I admire the way he plays his cricket. Makhaya Ntini is a magnificent fast bowler, one of the best in the game today and I love the way Andre Nel goes about his work with all his animation and enthusiasm.

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