A distant perspective

2014-09-13 00:00

FOR two weeks I have been partially disconnected from the world of sport. Some might say that the exclusion was complete if all one saw on television was the daily diet fed to its reluctant viewers by Eurosport, the ubiquitous channel favoured by the European hospitality industry.

It certainly adds perspective to any travelling Japie to find out that his beloved Springboks rate no mention in the Continental media and scarcely anything in the pages of the English press. In contrast, the worldwide brand that is the All Blacks receives generous coverage in even those far flung countries where alphabets have more than thirty letters.

There is a lesson in this for South African administrators who cannot see that the game has evolved past the limited rugby that delivered two world cups to the rainbow nation. The entertaining and skilful rugby played by the All Blacks is nurturing legions of supporters wherever the game is played.

The style and success of the All Blacks will surely soon deliver a commercial harvest beyond anything yet seen in the sport of rugby. Maybe then there will be a realisation in South Africa that consistent international success will elude the Springboks until a skill-based philosophy is introduced into coaching throughout the country.

This season’s Rugby Championship is only half finished but already its winner is obvious to all but the most blinkered of South Africans for whom victory is now the kind of mathematical possibility that attracts only the gamblers that keep the bookies well fed. After this morning’s match against Richie ­McCaw’s rampant team even that remote chance will almost certainly have been reduced to dust.

Thanks to a daily printing of Australian news liner I was able to keep up to date with the triangular series in Zimbabwe. I am not a fan of playing cricket on winter pitches which generally offer no help to fast bowlers so I am not too excited by the Proteas’ victory over the below strength Australians and the keen but outclassed Zimbabweans.

Nevertheless this tournament was a useful exercise in determining how the Proteas might cope in the post-Kallis era. Faf du Plessis answered my misgivings about his ability to bat at number three by all but scoring four hundreds and securing for himself the man of the tournament award. After this performance it would be churlish not to recognise that his batting was the most encouraging performance of the series.

It is disturbing to see that the bowling still rests so heavily on the shoulders of Dale Steyn. One is beginning to feel the same way about Steyn as we once did about Allan Donald. What will the Proteas do without him?

There is no sign of his successor. Morne Morkel has not become the lethal quickie of his early promise and the great Philander has mislaid the nip and tuck that made him such a handful for batsmen. Somehow South African cricket has always thrown up the next quick but the present cupboard is not bulging with talent.

Spin bowling remains a major problem. No one can convince me that either Tahir or Phangiso will have much success on the pitches that Australia and New Zealand will prepare for the 2015 World Cup.

For all that, the Proteas look as well placed as any other team for the Australasian showdown at the end of the coming summer. No team seem to be without their problems. At this stage an early punt on New Zealand who will play most of their matches at home could be rewarding.

What one did see on Eurosport was the U.S. Open tennis. The pundits are now all talking about the broken deadlock that the Big Three held on men’s tennis since 2005.

The rivalry that Federer, Nadal and Dojokovic have had for nearly 10 years has been remarkably good for tennis. Their contrasting styles powered a renewed interest in a sport that had begun to lament its absence of characters. Nadal clearly has a few more French Opens left in him and I would be surprised if the resilient Dojokvic is done with winning slams.

As much as one hopes, Federer has next to no chance of adding to his list of major titles. He has played some beautiful tennis this year but despite some favourable draws at his two most successful venues he was unable to clinch the deal at either Wimbledon or Flushing Meadows.

He remains enduringly watchable and clearly loves playing competitive tennis but the younger and stronger players have begun to reel him in. The U.S. Open winner, Marin Cilic, had never beaten Federer in five attempts but he destroyed the great man with ease.

The long goodbye to Federer has begun after several false starts. He will give us all much pleasure for as long as he plays but one wonders what damage the Cilic defeat has given to his raison detre. Will he carry on once he knows that a quarter final or worse is the summit of his declining powers?

We lament the fading of Federer but individual sports such as tennis have been able to regenerate themselves with surprising speed after the loss of their great players. The Big Three raised the bar for success. Succeeding generations and their coaches know what has to be done to surpass them. New talent finds its way to the top and the whole process of domination and renewal starts again.

Sometimes, as with team sports, this process stalls when outdated methods and coaching are used in an attempt to repeat successes of the past. When that happens the way forward has to be charted by a visionary steeped in insight and knowledge. It is this kind of man that we need to lead the Springboks into a challenging future.

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