There is no more time or space for misplaced pride and there is nothing to justify arrogance. The time has come for humility in South African cricket and the time has come to acknowledge the Kings of the sport, the best team in the world. Australia.
Ricky Ponting’s team were at least 25% better than any of their rivals and they showed it at the Wanderers on Sunday. It is not a crime to learn from their ways and methods and it does not mean that individuality has to be sacrificed. South African cricket can, and will still have its own identity in the years to come whether they are brave enough to copy the World Champions or not. Imitation is the best form of flattery.
The Aussies raised themselves very close to the peak of their collective powers for their opening game against Pakistan because it was crucial to their campaign. When that victory was secured, and with it a place in Super Sixes, they allowed themselves to relax. They did not feel it was a crime to do that, they simply knew it would impossible to stay ‘intense’ for 11 matches.
Before ‘soft’ games against Holland and Namibia the players were allowed to visit Sun City to play golf, to spend a few days in the city rather than stay in sleepy Potchefstroom and to enjoy a late night or two with good food and wine. They were responsible for their own actions – mess up and they would have been punished. Just look at Shane Warne, cut from the squad like a cancerous mole.
Other teams employ a host of ‘managers’ who take it as their duty to protect, discipline and molly-coddle their players. Australians are not merely allowed to think for themselves and be responsible for their own actions, they are expected to. The captain and his senior players do not tolerate ‘rifts’ between the team itself, the team and the media or the team and anyone else, sponsors, public or administrators.
Petulance and sulking is simply not tolerated and if a meeting has to be ‘forced’ in order to address an issue, then it will be. If heads have to knocked together, they will be.
They may have hugged each other to within a breath of unconsciousness after winning the World Cup but, believe it or not, the Australian squad does not get along 15 brothers. But when a player doesn’t like something about a team mate you can be sure they have discussed their differences before they take the field. And if that means agreeing to disagree, then so be it. But they’ll still die for each other on the field.
Academies, coaching, funding, sports science, government backing and decent, accountable administrators all play a far more important role but without a few personal, social skills the South African team will always struggle. It’s simply no longer acceptable to look after yourself and spend all your free time with your best friend.
Alienated players do not perform to the best of their ability. No one is alienated in the Australian team, even the awkward customers, and there are a few of them, I promise you.
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