Plenty of players have taken far longer than ten games to settle into international cricket but Ashwell Prince was feeling the heat with the presentation of his tenth cap.
His was always going to be a ‘floating’ role in the batting order and it came as no surprise to him when the big hitting Justin Kemp and Mark Boucher were promoted up the order in Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth to take advantage of the solid starts made by the top order.
But one of cricket’s most unforgiving tendencies is to judge players by their numbers alone, by their batting average in first class cricket and by their scores in the one-day game. At a quick glance Prince’s scores looked ordinary heading in to the final match at Centurion.
He made a hard fought 22 at the Wanderers while senior players played like novices at the other end, was then run out for a duck (batting at number eight) in the final over of the tied match in Bloem and finished 17 not out in Port Elizabeth. Two scores of 34 and 27 in matches five and six may have suggested a player who was unable to ‘close the deal’ after promising starts.
With the Zimbabwe series only a week away Prince would have heard the whispers about young players being given a chance, about senior players like Jacques Kallis and Makhaya Ntini being rested and about those who had failed to deliver being dropped.
So it was with exuberant relief that he scored the winning runs at SuperSport Park, that he ‘closed the deal’ and finally made all the hard work pay off. His feverish running between the wickets, his determination to maintain the team’s scoring rate in the quiet, middle overs of the innings and his cool, calm head under pressure had finally resulted in him winning a game.
Imagine the joy as he grabbed a souvenir stump from his biggest game in national colours, the thoughts of having it signed by his team mates and placing it proudly amongst his collection of provincial awards and other souvenirs.
Then imagine what he felt when a breathless Kevin Pietersen, having sprinted 80 metres from the longest boundary on the ground, arrived by his side to find no stumps remaining. Prince looked at his foe, looked briefly at the stump and thought of their respective innings. And handed it over.
He then ran to the other set of stumps only to see Ashley Giles removing the last one to commemorate his highest score (41) and his seventh wicket century stand with Pietersen (116).
Half way back to the pavilion, someone handed Prince a stump. It wasn’t Pietersen and it wasn’t Giles, but someone else also knew the right thing to do.
There has been plenty of acrimony in both the Test and one-day series, but as almost always happens, the spirit of fair play, sportsmanship and forgiveness flows heartily when combat has finished.
One of the golden rules of sport and touring is this: “What happens at the bar stays at the bar.” I will therefore not break that rule, but I will bend it – a little.
Having written an article which upset Michael Vaughan earlier in this tour about a long-planned interview I had arranged with the England captain was subsequently cancelled at short notice, I was approached by Vaughan at the Durban Holiday Inn’s favourite watering hole several hours after the sixth match of the series had concluded.
He offered his hand in greeting but his tone reflected frustration and was not warm. I believed, wrongly, that any response from me would be futile and yet, when I began to explain myself, we talked for half an hour. He listened, I listened and we both learned that there are always two sides to every story. Michael Vaughan was, and is, a gentleman. I’m happy he gave me the chance to see that for myself.
Pietersen has upset several members of the South African team – and not by accident. His provocations haven’t always been limited to the mutually accepted battle ground contained within the boundary ropes, either. Next time he’s feeling hostile, angry or provocative he would do well to remember his captain’s approach to adversity – confront it honestly and with an open mind.
And he’d do equally well to remember what Prince did with that stump.
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