Leading Edge: The difference between the great and the good

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

WINSTON Churchill was right: “The price of greatness is responsibility.” That price is higher for cricketers than for players of other team sports.

Why? Because the game is as much a team sport as the Wanderers is a cricket ground.

It is, of course. But it’s also a big-ass stadium, and anyone who has been around cricket for longer than it takes to queue for beer on a hot day knows that cricket’s grounds and stadiums are not to be confused.

Similarly, let’s not confuse cricketers with those who depend on teammates’ for their success.

That could explain why a disproportionate number of South Africa’s better cricketers were once fine flyhalves: perhaps rugby’s attraction dimmed for them when they became fed up with counting on forwards to win the ball and scrumhalves to shovel it to them before they could strutt their stuff.

Which would mean we have scrums and line-outs to thank for some of the country’s top cricketers. If flyhalves put the ball in play more often rugby might hold onto more of them.

But there’s community and camaraderie to be had from team sports that must make a top tennis player’s dressingroom desolate by comparison.

So, what to get for the team member who has everything except the kind of team spirit demanded in rugby circles?

A bat and pads.

Cricketers prefer to make their own greatness. They have to; no-one is going to make it for them.

Which means cricket needs great players more than other sports. Happily, it gets them.

One of them, Hashim Amla, has grown to greatness before our eyes these past dozen years. On no-one does this mantle sit more easily.

So easily that Amla didn’t see why he should buy into the fuss about him playing his 100th test at the Wanderers. Damn straight: sticking around for long enough to play a century of matches is nothing to celebrate. It’s what you’ve done in those games that matters.

That’s the responsibility Churchill was on about. Great cricketers have a duty to the game and to those who watch them play to make the most of their abilities.

It’s why Amla is revered and why JP Duminy makes people want to smack him upside the head.

We saw at the Wanderers on Thursday just how dominant both can be. “Beautiful,” was Amla’s description of Duminy’s batting. There was no arguing with that, and it could just as easily have been applied to Amla’s innings.

Their centuries shimmered with quality, Duminy’s infused with snap, crackle and pop, Amla’s an alchemy of occasion and obduracy that, once he emerged from the dirty 30s, gave way to an almost feral fluency.

We’ve seen that from Amla for most of his career; less so from Duminy, and not because of a lack of class.

Duminy has more of the stuff – and talent and skill – than Donald Trump has hair. What he doesn’t have is the dependability that Amla brings to the crease.

That’s a perception. But it’s widely held among those who know what the excellent Duminy can do because they have seen him do it. It’s just that he doesn’t do it often enough.

The facts suggest something else. Duminy has had 65 test innings in which he has scored five centuries among his 1 827 runs. Amla’s first 65 innings earned him 2 460 runs and six hundreds.

Perhaps greatness, like beauty, is in the eye of its beholders.

Nah. We know greatness when we see it. It wears a beard, won’t wear a beer logo, and takes responsibility.

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