Brilliance is worth the wait

2010-12-11 00:00

SPORT, in its own bare and brutal manner, occasionally provides us with glimpses of brilliance that justify the hours spent honing a simple skill.

Be it a cricketer engraving in his mind “where his off-stump is”, or a golfer perfecting his nerve over a slick four-footer, sportsmen spend considerable hours readying themselves for a brief window of opportunity to succeed.

The late, infinitely great Sir Donald Bradman used a golf ball bounced against a corrugated iron well to hone his hand-eye co-ordination.

Earl Woods steeled his son for rowdy galleries by shouting right at the top of his backswing, in a bid to throw off his concentration.

Even the much-maligned Cristiano Ronaldo was renowned at Manchester United for his inexhaustible efforts to add to his God-given talents.

He would often be found working alone on his heading and his free-kicks at the club’s Carrington training facilities, long after his buddies had made a beeline for the malls and restaurants.

The result was that 42-goal season, with free-kicks flying in from all angles, towering headers locating the top corners, and levels of endurance that had been honed by extra reps in the gym.

But even more alluring than an individual standing out, is an entire team in perfect sync.

Ronaldo himself was at the receiving end of a perfect display of football in last Monday’s “El Clasico” between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Ronaldo’s individual brilliance stood against a team that had been made to produce perfection.

The academy at Barcelona, La Masia, is a conveyor belt for practioners of the beautiful game.

They come in as nine, 10, 11-year olds and they are taught how to best utilise the ball for common good.

“You cannot win if you don’t have the ball,” they say.

“So don’t waste it by giving it away unnecessarily.”

In full flight, theirs is the standard that pure football teams strive for.

It just so happens that Lionel Messi was blessed with his deadly combination of speed, skill and sacrifice.

Ultimately, though, these were all honed at the haven that is La Masia.

The head coach of Barcelona, Pep Guardiola, went to the same school. And then graduated with distinction in the art of the beautiful game. Some say it is total football.

Latin Americans have dubbed it joga bonito, whilst the townships of South Africa refer to it as diski.

Having seen Barcelona in that mood, my mind wandered to other sporting codes, and those who make their crafts resemble works of art.

Of course, true beauty is measured by success.

The “entertainers” label chucked out by teams who are gung-ho and get punished for it doesn’t sit well with me.

Think of teams that score three great goals, but then concede five.

Or a rugby side that will run the ball from their own try line, simply because it is not in their nature to kick away hard-earned possession.

Think the French rugby team, the Pakistani cricket unit and even Real Madrid since the turn of the century.

A team needs a healthy balance between adventure and resilience before it can be considered as brilliant.

The same applies for individual superstars, such as Woods and Roger Federer.

In his prime, the poetry of the Swiss star’s backhand was allied to a strong serve and sturdy defence — when he occassionally needed it.

Woods, too, was served by brilliant abilty to make defining shots from hopeless situations.

But that would have counted for precious little if he didn’t have nerves of steel on the putting green.

Brilliance in sport is so fleeting, and is often clouded by endless hours of mind-numbing toil before the brief, heady crescendo.

Kevin Pietersen’s recent 227 was the epitome of brilliance at the crease.

One commentator went as far as to say that, when in full flight, KP was one of the few batsmen capable of actually embarassing good bowlers.

When he is hot, he is that searingly hot.

And there are, of course, a few others who have such ability lurking within.

There are golf nuts across the world who will stay up until ungodly hours in the hope that they will finally see Woods reclaim his best form.

He keeps showing glimpses, and then failing to deliver.

And when he does, there will be a collective sigh of relief for those who crave to catch the sight of him in full flight.

Brilliance is just worth waiting for.

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