Every time I hear Graeme Smith at a pre- or post- cricket match interview, he looks quite content and comfortable, almost smug with the knowledge that the team he’s leading has the potential to dominate any other team in a given one day, and increasingly nowadays, in any five day match.
It is clearly a satisfying feeling, and the words with which he rounds off to display his conviction, are also at these interviews, inevitably heard: “We’ve had a good last two years or thereabouts, the team has been grafting really hard and the success paid off in our results.”
This cannot be denied, as South Africa certainly has had a pride-inspiring two year period, and in which Smith played a key part with both his leadership and performances, most markedly demonstrated perhaps in his one-man stand battle in the series-deciding test match victory against England at Birmingham last year with his man of the match, unbeaten score of 154, and his ‘Captain Courageous’ effort of coming out to bat injured against Australia in the final innings of the last match played Down Under in the beginning of this year, which some Australian reports claimed, however, was only effective in detracting attention from Australia’s remarkable victory on that day.
Sorry for stealing the spotlight for split-second there mates, we know how you love it.
But one thing from which we must not detract ourselves, and in so doing also merely become culprits of riding on our image, is that all these performances, though painstakingly accomplished, and in the rewards of which we should by all means sweetly indulge, will remain where they are, and that is in the past. With our renewed and strengthened armory of experience in achievement, our aim must now lie to breach barriers thus far unsurpassed, which we will again come to encounter in the future.
Admittedly, we have not had much match practice, and this fact was perhaps most dearly responsible for our recent loss against Sri Lanka in the opening match of the ICC championships Trophy, where we were visibly rusty. However, I have a feeling we thought leading this campaign would just follow as a matter of course, and although there is perhaps a lot of pressure on us to perform (being the host nation), our players are mature and experienced enough not to let the pressure bring them down too much.
To the contrary in fact, they seem to be rather immune to pressure – the 2007 World Cup being an example where we went in as favourites, and allowed Australia to run away with a score of 377 in our group match (which we started off chasing pretty impressively) - seemingly thinking there is no score we can’t chase, possibly owing to our historic performance a while earlier in the famed ‘434’ game.
Again in the 20/20 World Cup earlier this year in England, we were on solid form, suffocating every team hoping to threaten us, and strolling to the semi final against Pakistan undefeated, again posed as favourites. There we lost, but it had been a long season, and our “20/20” vision, so to speak, just seemed to have taken a slight dip on that day.
We come into this new Championship well rested out, with time to have reflected on our past achievements. We looked unquestionably more focused in our second match against New Zealand, winning by 5 wickets and 53 balls remaining, with the talisman AB de Villiers leading the charge in emphatic style with his sharp-eyed, cool-headed, and enduring presence.
Having lost to Sri Lanka might actually not be such a bad thing, as we will now not be shrouded (and clouded) by an air of invincibility as we were in the 20/20 competition, which is much harder to uphold. A platform, one might say, has therefore been laid pretty strongly, but it is now at this junction in which our mindset rises to the fore as an integral element to our potential success.
It is for this reason that we can now not afford to bask in the glory of our prior success, and we must contract the focus which saw us roaring to victory against New Zealand today, with all the opponents we will encounter over the next two weeks. At the same time, we must remain humble and see our opponents on the same level as a boxer might see his across the ring – on equal footing, and with an understanding that only with a tireless fight, and palpable desire, will we prevail.
This we must do, because as much as the country remembers and admires our successes from the past and as much as our captain believes in our ability, it has also not been forgotten that our trophy cabinet still echoes eerily in emptiness.
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