Unique preparation of the greats

Over half of the current Proteas test XI has either already achieved cricketing ‘greatness’ or has it very firmly in their sights. That makes for as settled a team as has ever played the game together.

It also gives them the right to prepare as they see fit, despite raised eyebrows from old-school members of the coaching fraternity who will tell you that no player is bigger than the game. Besides, it inspires the youngsters to see the veterans rolling up their sleeves and doing press-ups with the rest.

There undoubtedly comes a time, however, when a player has done enough to be left to his own devices. Some great players through the course of history have chosen ‘rest’ as their preferred course of action before a match. Others, like Courtney Walsh, chose bowling. Still others, like Ian Botham, chose late nights and several bottles of wine. Most of the methods ‘worked’ for them, most of the time.

The ‘problem’ with this diversity in preparation lies with those who attempt to emulate it. Some sportsmen thrive on hard-work, some on rest. Some need an abstemious early night before a game. David Gower, a wine connoisseur, admitted that he could barely walk the next morning after one evening in the company of Botham – who scored a century.

So the old expression about ‘each man to his own’ is absolutely correct. Provided that each man knows what ‘his own’ is. If he does not have the experience to know what suits him best, then he has two choices: copy one of his peers, or work hard with the coaches to find out.

There was a story doing the rounds in Indian cricket in the aftermath of that country’s glorious World Cup triumph concerning one of the young players. With Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton gone, he was confronted with a new coach and a different approach. He was somewhat surprised when told that practice the next day was compulsory. “Oh,” he said unhappily, “Gary used to let me practise when I wanted to.”

Incidentally, you would have to look far and wide to find a single champion in individual sports like tennis, swimming, cycling and athletics who had sufficient personal drive to reach the top. Read their biographies and you will find, over and over again, tributes to coaches who pushed them at times they may otherwise have slackened off.

Anyway, the current Proteas team doesn’t have that problem. Just for interests sake, compare the current world No 1 team to the champions of 1984 and 2000. How many ‘greats’ (or future greats) would you name in all three?

1984 2000 2013
Gordon Greenidge Matthew Hayden Graeme Smith
Desmond Haynes Justin Langer Alviro Petersen
Larry Gomes Damien Martyn Hashim Amla
Viv Richards Mark Waugh Jacques Kallis
Clive Lloyd Michael Clarke AB de Villiers
Jeff Dujon Steve Waugh Faf du Plessis
Eldine Baptiste Adam Gilchrist Dean Elgar
Roger Harper Shane Warne Robin Peterson
Michael Holding Jason Gillespie Vernon Philander
Joel Garner Michael Kasprowicz Dale Steyn
Malcolm Marshall Glenn McGrath Morne Morkel

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