“We help the best team win”

The ICC and their primary sponsor, Emirates Airlines, staged a pre-Champions Trophy Golf Day on Monday and it was outstanding. Especially since I was invited.

The ICC’s elite umpires and match referees were there as were a host of former Proteas cricketers and other big names from sport. A time to have fun and enjoy an afternoon that might otherwise have been spent in an office, or watching the Proteas final training session at Centurion before the opening match on Tuesday.

Fortunately, with the aid of modern technology, it’s possible to do both these days. A quick chat with Hashim Amla revealed the mood within the camp and still allowed me and my playing partners, David Terbrugge, Darryl Goodwin and match ref Jeff Crowe to complete 18 holes that were modestly good, sometimes wretched and, once or twice, very good indeed.

Hashim was, as always, understatedly sharp, modest, interesting and modest. “It’s my first experience of an ICC tournament and, let me say, it’s not like anything I’ve experienced before,” he admitted. “You see famous faces from around the world in the hotel lobby and you are quickly reminded that this is the best of the best. When Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar walk past you then you know you’re in the big league,” Amla said.

None of the players could make the golf day because their focus is on winning a tournament which still, in their minds, rates as a ‘mini World Cup’, the billing it was given when it started 11 years ago. As much as people may carry on about the Champions Trophy being irrelevant and unnecessary in the current, crowded world calendar, it is the proliferation of meaningless one-dayers rather than serious global events which is threatening to bury 50-over cricket.

After the Golf Day had finished, the world’s best umpire – Simon Taufel – accepted the microphone briefly to offer well considered and well worded thanks to all of the staff at the ICC who make life on the road manageable and bearable for the officiators.

Jeff Crowe was outstanding company and the irrepressible Billy Bowden charged around the Royal Johannesburg course in a golf cart as though he was being time trialed.

“We will do our best on Tuesday night, as always,” said Taufel, “to ensure that the best team wins.” A momentary pause of silent confusion followed, and then muffled laughter. “Err, whoever that team happens to be!”

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