The Best become the Rest

The most amusing part about reading that ‘Australia held the Ashes’ for the last 18 years is that they never held them at all. They didn’t even touch them.

The Ashes urn, as most cricket fundis know, stays permanently held at Lord’s. The last time Australia made a formal application to have the urn shipped back to Melbourne – when Steve Waugh was captain – they were told that it was too delicate to travel!

England deserved to win and Andrew Flintoff deserved to play the lead role.

He may never enjoy a series like it again but Flintoff will always be remembered for playing the biggest hand in winning back the Ashes in 2005.

But even more deserving than Flintoff is Duncan Fletcher, the man who’s five year plan came right (and was subsequently rewarded with the dubious honour of English citizenship.)

Sport makes heroes and normal people need heroes to get through the day – hell no, whole countries need heroes. So whilst it seemed a bit over the top to stage an open top bus parade through Trafalgar Square to celebrate what was, after all, just a victory against one other country, I thought England deserved their party.

There were undoubtedly a few nauseating moments but if you saw any of them you will have noticed that they all involved people who didn’t actually play in the series.

The greatest characteristic of the England team is its down-to-earthness. Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard and Ashley Giles rate amongst the most humble and ‘real’ people I have had the pleasure of meeting in 18 years of cricket coverage. So where does all this lack of pretense come from? Duncan Fletcher.

Did anyone see him on the glory-glory bus? Not his style, not his scene to be seen. Honest endevour, total commitment and a sense of perspective that reminds you it’s not about life and death – it’s a game (albeit an important one.) That’s Fletcher’s ‘secret’. And that’s what South Africa allowed to slip through their fingers in 1999.

But back to heroes. What chance is there that Andrew Flintoff will be allowed to slip into quiet anonymity and retirement in 10 years time? Everywhere you look during a tour of England there will be an ex-England international involved in some aspect of the game, from marketing to promotion, to commentary and coaching.

There are those who prefer to forget the game entirely, who wish to invent a new life and turn to religion or gardening, but they are a rare exception. Mostly, when you have dedicated as much time to cricket as is required to play the game at international level, it remains a significant part of your life for as long as there is breath in your body.

Unfortunately, we do not have a good record in this area in South Africa. Far, far too many of our experienced international cricketers are languishing on the sidelines of the game and unable to share the experience they acquired over years and years of competing against Australia, India and England. Most unhappily they are made to feel that they are unwanted.

For several years Adrian Kuiper achieved worldwide fame for changing the way in which one-day cricket was played. For three years Brian McMillan was regarded as the undisputed king of all-rounders – he was the cornerstone of the South African Test team. Craig Matthews epitomised the virtues of discipline and hard work and was Hansie Cronje’s vice captain for three years.

They are just three names, but there are more. There was a fast bowler, pretty good one, in fact…what was his name? Oh yes – Allan Donald.

In recent seasons Donald has been coaching Warwickshire 2nd XI (which is a combination of nurse-maiding and driving the school bus), commentating and acting as bowling consultant to the Free State Eagles. But what he desperately wants is to work with the SA national team and also to work with the very best young cricketers of the next generation.

He spoke to Gary Kirsten five months ago about the possibility of working in the High Performance programme and Kirsten almost bit his head off such was his enthusiasm to have Donald involved. But it wasn’t his decision – at least financially.

Five months later and still nothing has happened. Last week Donald applied for the senior coach’s position at Warwickshire. If he gets it, which seems unlikely, he will be lost to South African cricket.

If he doesn’t then we will have another chance to keep SA’s greatest fast bowler involved in our game. He deserves it. The team deserves it. We all deserve it.

Otherwise, like the Aussies have just found out, the best just become the rest.

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