Leading Edge: Imagine sport for sport’s sake

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

RUGBY players are from Mars. Cricketers are from Venus. So who were they trying to fool at Newlands on Thursday?

Can we call a meeting between the Proteas and the Springboks a cricket match? Even if it involves bats, pads, gloves, helmets, stumps and cricket balls, and much bowling, batting, fielding and catching, some of it of questionable quality? And unfolds on one of the most storied ovals in cricket?

Yes, we can call that a cricket match. But only because the point of it all was to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

In those terms we could call anything a cricket match, even a cocaine-snorting contest between Martians and Venusians. Put Mandela’s name anywhere near whatever it is and respectability will surely follow.

So there was honour in Thursday’s events at Newlands, and in an era of apparently boundless selfishness and separation from the rest of us among those who make their living from playing a mere game that is no small thing.

There was also a lot of fun for the 7110 who arrived to watch it all wobble into the sunset.

Good thing, for instance, that Trevor Nyakane latched onto rugby and not cricket as a career: where would he have found a helmet to fit him?

The one he wore on Thursday looked more like the cherry on a cupcake than a protective device.

And were the pants the Boks squeezed into simply too hipster – as in ridiculously tight – or has their player/coach, Graeme Smith, always a lock forward on a cricket scale, become even more larger than life since his retirement?

It’s a fair question considering Smith wore his thigh pads on the outside of those too-tight pants …

Unless, of course, he was the only member of his big, bad Bok team to bother with something as namby-pamby as thigh pads.

A nice touch by the Boks was to greet Faf du Plessis’ entrance with a show of suckers in each of their mouths. Doubtless the International Cricket Council will not see the funny side.

The crowd, and the audience watching the live stream of the game on SuperSport’s Facebook page – if you’re as old as this columnist you will be forgiven for having a tenuous understanding of what this means – seemed to get that and most of the other jokes.

Among them was Hashim Amla’s barely legal bowling action and Kyle Abbott’s amazing inability to send down even one decent delivery – of spin.

Hours earlier a team from the Kimberley Islamic School played a game of mini-cricket against the Proteas, who were admirably careful not to put too many dents in the kids’ passionately serious enthusiasm.

The scene was surrounded by probably twice as many marketing and media types compared to the number of participants, and there was significantly more exercise being had by those who scurried about the periphery wielding cameras and clipboards than those on the field.

You could be cynical about all of the above. You could call it an expensive gimmick, or something too crassly flippant to be linked to so great a name.

Or you could be happy that not everything about sport and how we play it is do or die, obsessed with winning, losing or even drawing, or determined to show us the money.

Sport for sport’s sake. Now there’s a concept.

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