When is sentiment appropriate in sport?

2010-07-31 00:00

THERE’S definitely a place for sentiment in sport, especially when there’s a feel-good factor likely to moisten a cheek or two.

It’s not always in the best interest of teams, though.

Makhaya Ntini was always going to play in the first Test against England last season. Cricket South Africa had already announced it was going to make a big occasion of it because it was his 100th Test.

So, despite poor domestic form, he was picked. Sadly, he didn’t make much of an impact, making the celebration somewhat hollow. He played in the next Test too, and was then dropped. By then, South Africa were 1-0 down in a four-match series.

Watching Tri-Nations rugby over the past three weekends has caused me to wonder whether the Springboks are on the right track, a year from the Rugby World Cup.

Then someone mentioned that John Smit will be playing in his 100th Test against the All Blacks on what should be an extra-special occasion, the first rugby international to be played at the magnificent stadium that hosted the Soccer World Cup final recently.

Smit has been one of the undoubted greats of the game, but we have to start wondering whether he will still be up to it in a year’s time. We also have to wonder whether the World Cup master plan is starting to unravel.

It seemed a great idea a year ago to keep the stars of the 2007 World Cup together for a second crack at glory, but now it looks a shaky strategy. It’s also a bit late to start building a new team.

As we saw with the football, where defending champions Italy fielded an ageing squad and failed to get beyond the first round, four years is a long time in sport.

The Springbok scene seems confused and one wonders who is going to fix it. It makes me at least mildly nostalgic for the days when Danie Craven ruled South African rugby. He might have become an old dictator, but if there was a crisis in the team he was quite capable of taking off his jacket and sorting it out himself.

I look around sport today and don’t see too many people in administrative leadership positions who have played at the highest level. It’s not necessary to have been a top sportsman to be a capable administrator, but it does help when it’s necessary to make decisions affecting the national team.

Who in the current South African rugby set-up, I wonder, is qualified to make an objective, technical assessment of the job that Peter de Villiers and his coaching staff are doing?

Colin Bryden is a former cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times and current editor of the Mutual & Federal SA Cricket Annual.

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