How good will this team get?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

PLAYERS and coaches use every chance they get to talk about humility – of its importance and how much they succumb to it when they win big. Fare fewer are the instances when they put those words into practice.

One such rarity revealed itself when the South African press corps covering the tour of Australia were asked who they wanted to interview the day after the second test at Bellerive Oval in Hobart.

Russell Domingo’s name was first on the list of preferred victims.

He demurred because, according to team management, he would “like to stay behind the scenes until the series is done”.

Perhaps Domingo doesn’t like talking to the press. Perhaps he had something better to do at the appointed time. Both would be valid reasons for opting out.   

But if we take the man at his word then we cannot fail to respect him for it. In an age when egos uber alles, here’s a coach who doesn’t feel the need to brag about his accomplishments.

And Domingo has several worth bragging about. At the top of his heap might be the fact that he has helped steer the good ship South Africa out of the storm it was in last season, a tempest that might have cost him his job.

If it had, Domingo couldn’t have complained. That’s what happens when teams lose five of eight tests, as South Africa did in 2015-16.

Darren Lehmann, whose Australians shambled to their fifth consecutive test defeat in Hobart on Tuesday, when South Africa won by an innings to claim the series 2-0, is finding that out the hard way.

Perhaps last season was when Domingo learnt his humility. And when Hashim Amla acquired the empathy that, in less emotional circumstances, would have outshone his ill-advised defence in Melbourne on Friday of the allegations of ball-tampering made against Faf du Plessis.

Did he take any joy from the Aussies’ predicament, Amla was asked crassly. He seemed taken aback by the thought.

“Joy? I’ve got a lot of joy from enjoying this with my teammates and the kind of position we are in. I take no gratification from the difficulty of others.”

Coming after several minutes of argumentative exchanges with the media, mostly vacuous, puffed up television types, this shimmering thought should have stopped everyone in their tracks.

It didn’t, of course. But Amla continued: “As a team we are really happy. We’re 2-0 up in the series but the series is not done in our minds. We’ve got lots to achieve. We hope to keep enjoying each others’ company and keep supporting each other, which is the most important thing.”

Humility and empathy – there are no greater human virtues, and South Africa’s team has found ways to nurture both.

In a world driven by greed and superficiality, those are victories infinitely more important than anything that can be recorded in a scorebook.

Du Plessis must take a large chunk of the credit for that, and regardless of whether the International Cricket Council does their worst about him allegedly using sugar-soaked saliva to help the ball keep its shine during the Hobart test.

His clear-eyed, sensible leadership has been a revelation and has been delivered with the maturity every fine team needs.

Happily, neither the Australian side nor their suits have suggested that they have been properly beaten because of what has been dubbed “Lollyline”. There are far more important reasons for their dramatic downward spiral, and they know it.

The empathetic Amla understood just how they felt.

“Cricket is the type of game where you have ups and downs,” he said. “You can’t take your foot off the gas and you can’t take things for granted.

“When you’ve gone through difficult times you appreciate the good times and you remember the difficult times because that time could come again at some other stage.

“We had a difficult time last summer, and no-one is taking it for granted. At the moment we are very grateful.

“Winning 2-0 in Australia is a big moment for any team. Some of us have been very fortunate to have it three times now. This time is just as good as the other two.”

A 3-0 scoreline after the Adelaide test starting on Thursday is more probable than possible. And then what?

How good might this South African team become? That is an unanswerable question, and Amla preferred to keep things real.

“We’ve come here with a team including quite a few young individuals. To see the younger guys perform the way they have, they have really made a name for themselves in Australia and in world cricket.”

Kagiso Rabada and Temba Bavuma have accomplished exactly that, while Keshav Maharaj, who made his debut in the first test the WACA, has done everything asked of him.

JP Duminy and Dean Elgar have burnished their reputations, while Kyle Abbott has reminded all who needed reminding just how good he can be.

Just how good could they all be? Can’t hardly wait to find out.

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