The only reason heads are turned toward Cape Town is because the Proteas won the last Test

2014-02-28 00:00

IT’S the talk of the town as we head into the weekend. Cape Town, Newlands to be specific, is the place to be as the Proteas and Aussies stare each other down in the deciding third Test with the sides locked at 1-1.

Even those with little or at best a limited knowledge of cricket, are talking about the match and the start of the match on Saturday can’t come quick enough as many folk anticipate a weekend with feet up catching the first two days. Depending on the state of affairs come Monday morning, there could be “sick” calls to hundreds of workplaces around the country.

It’s a healthy place to be as far as cricket is concerned. It’s a game viewed by many as boring, especially at Test level, where the uninformed spectator cannot understand why it drags on for five days and then produces no result. But explaining the intricacies of the game is another story altogether, better saved for a rainy day when there is a break in play.

Looking beyond the hype of this match, it’s fair to say the only reason heads are turned toward Cape Town is because the Proteas won the last Test in Port Elizabeth.

That may come across as obvious but let’s pause and consider how people would have reacted if the Proteas had won the first Test and lost the second, if the order of proceedings was reversed.

It would still be level heading for Newlands but most people would be harping on about how useless we are, who should be dropped, a new captain reinstated, why our bowlers are not knocking batsmen’s heads off like the Aussies do and so on. The usual trash that gets strewn around whenever a South Africa team has the gall to lose or find itself in the unfortunate position of getting beaten.

Face facts … sport is a contest someone has to lose. Stomach it, show character and rise up again to be noticed and respected.

That’s exactly what Graeme Smith and his men have done and it’s resulted in a nation talking, paying attention.

Immediately after the Aussies had won convincingly at Centurion the tongues started wagging, the comments flying and preposterous ideas, possible selections, put forward.

It’s easy to criticise with a beer in hand, shouting off about how worthless the team and the players are and like anyone who makes a noise, there will always be someone who stops to listen, even supporting the cause at times.

And so it came to pass that in the days before the second Test, everyone wanted Smith chucked out, Hashim Amla replaced, a platoon of fresh bowlers drafted in. Within a week, it was all hunky-dory, the players embraced once more and their self same detractors denying any slander toward them. They are national heroes and the country waits with bated breath for them to perform.

Heaven help them if they come second as the swords will be drawn once more.

In a sports mad country it’s a natural reaction to feel peeved when the national side takes some stick but let’s remember, even a Rolls Royce doesn’t run at 100% all the time and will misfire every so often.

Test cricket is a tough business. To keep focused while the opposition grinds you down and have the energy and mindset to still believe there is a chance of winning or saving a match takes strength and character.

That’s what we should be celebrating. After being smashed first time around, the same players have turned matters around, dishing out the same medicine to Michael Clarke and his charges in Port Elizabeth.

The same could be said regarding the Boxing Day Test in Durban against India last year.

Day one saw the visitors at 181-1 and the negative talk had already started. Enter Dale Steyn who blitzed the batting the next day, finishing with 6-100 to set the platform for what transpired in a 10-wicket win. Add Jacques Kallis to that when he put a series of poor batting performances behind him to finish his glittering Test career with a century and it’s clear to see that Test cricket is a gladiator’s arena. It reflects life. There are good and bad periods, patches when you battle to perform but the element of hope, positive thinking and belief that things will get better never dies. It creates the inner belief that the journey will get better.

Whenever the Proteas fail, Smith’s name is first on the chopping block. Stats don’t lie and he has a fine Test record. It’s quickly forgotten how often he has saved South Africa especially in the fourth innings of a Test with a gritty hundred, a stat that sees him with the best fourth-innings average in Test cricket. Who can forget his unbelievable 154* at Edgbaston in 2008 that gave the Proteas a 5-wicket win against England, chasing 281 to win and sealing the series?

That innings is regarded as one of the finest in Test cricket, featured in a book Masterly Batting which highlights the top epic innings in Test cricket history.

Let’s believe he will come good this weekend, on his home ground.

The time has come to stop moaning and feeling sorry for ourselves.

Let’s get real. Most of us play golf and no two rounds are ever the same. So too in Test cricket.

Savour the moment and remain loyal and true to the Proteas — the players, what they stand for and what they have achieved.

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