Bafana can teach Proteas much about playing for honour

2010-06-16 00:00

WORLD Cup fever is well and truly upon us and what a spectacle it’s been so far. Switching TV channels between the soccer and the cricket has required some adjusting. What a contrast there has been between the electric atmosphere of the soccer, complete with deafening vuvuzelas, and the sedate sound of leather on willow in the Caribbean. Even the very vocal Trini posse sound tame in comparison.

Closer to home, the positive spin-offs of hosting this extraordinary event are evident. We’ve seen the hallowed cricket preserve of Kingsmead transformed into a campsite for soccer fans. There’s even talk of the Proteas playing a 20/20 match against India at the Moses Mabhida stadium in January.

Watching Bafana Bafana in action during the World Cup has been compelling viewing. Carlos Parreira’s young charges have played with passion, determination and unquestionable commitment. They have not taken lightly the honour of playing for their country and acknowledge that they are representing every South African each time they take to the field.

The new-look Bafana team give 100% every second of every match. Win or lose, they will fight all the way and we can’t ask for more, can we? A team that displays this type of dedication draws supporters and Bafana Bafana continue to do just that. Parreira has made some tough decisions by getting rid of some of the big names, but he now has a team of hungry youngsters who know how to play to his game plan and who are committed to it.

Drawing comparisons between the Proteas and Bafana Bafana seems unfair, especially considering South Africa’s clinical performance in the West Indies. In their annihilation of Chris Gayle’s men in Trinidad they were hard to fault. They won the toss, batted impressively, bowled exceptionally and backed up their bowling with great fielding. Taking nothing away from their success, it’s still important to put these victories against a weakened Windies team into perspective.

Things appear encouraging from a team point of view when compared to the bad place the Proteas were in just a few months ago. Their performance in the ICC Twenty20 Cup was woeful, but what was most concerning was the lack of spirit and team unity. There is still work to be done in this department and much can be learnt from Parreira’s approach.

Bafana Bafana may not win a game in the World Cup, but the passion, enthusiasm and discipline Parreira has instilled in his players is evident. With these fundamentals in place, his team can only go from strength to strength.

Despite their lofty world ranking, the Proteas could perhaps do with a reminder that playing for your country is the ultimate honour. In my opi­nion, the Proteas would attract far more support if they projected the same level of commitment as Bafana Bafana do each time they take to the field. Often a team that is less talen­ted, but is unified in spirit and dedica­ted to its success, can get surprising results, as Bafana Bafana have shown. How much more could be achieved by our star-studded Protea side with a similar team approach?

Bafana Bafana’s fighting spirit will be an inspiration to us all. Let’s hope the Proteas are watching in the Caribbean.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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