This may be my last column about preparing for the Absa Cape Epic. On Saturday, I will ride in the Fairview Attakwas Extreme, a 121km race in Oudtshoorn with 2 900m of climbing. The team manager has given Team Absa riders a 10-hour limit to complete the ride, or we will be cut from the team.
This is a problem for me. I am a journalist. I tend to stretch deadlines at the best of times and treat them with some disdain at the worst of times. I don’t much like deadlines. I tend to lie about them when given them. Sure. No problem. I’ll get it in sooner. At least, oh, three or four seconds before cut-off.
Michael Slater’s voice could cut through concrete, which is a good thing if you are in the construction of buildings, but not so good if you are in the construction of commentary. It sliced through the morning air yesterday, turning the day of our lord into the morning of our, “Oh, Lord,” as he fought for airtime with Ian Healy and a somewhat bemused Mike Hussey.
Slater, as one colleague has observed, seems to think he is covering a race horse and has been told that it is a sin to allow for even the smallest bit of dead air. A pause is not a time for reflection, but a sign of weakness. The Channel 9 commentary team feel like they are in competition with each other to speak the most, as though they get paid by the spoken word. This is what happens with good Australian teams when they begin to break up prematurely – they have to try desperately to make room for them in the booth, which is why they have squeezed three of them in there. Some of them are excellent, others mediocre, a few others in for nonsense value and at least one of them because he is old.
There’s nowt so queer as folk, as the saying goes. In the 21st century you’d hope and expect that there was nowt so queer as queer folk having to make an announcement that they are queer, but homophobia is set thick in the world; there is much loathing hidden, lurking and threatening boys who like boys and girls who like girls.
The wonderful thing about the coming out of Thomas Hitzlsperger, the 52-cap German footballer, was the simple fact he felt at ease enough to announce he was gay. The sad and frightening thing about it was Hitzlsperger announced it only after he had retired from professional sport.
In the book, Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, by the blogger Bike Snob NYC, a basic truth about riding a bike is preached.
“Any cyclist will tell you that one of the things they value most about cycling is what it does for their heads. It cleans out the clutter. Cycling allows for reflection. It simultaneously offers time to mull over problems and to escape those problems. It’s both meditative and contemplative. Whether you’re weaving through traffic or climbing a long country road, the effect is the same. Your body’s working and your mind is working. And when those two things start working in concert, other aspects of life can start falling into place as well.”
Cycling is where I go when things get hard, and even when things don’t get too hard. I also head to the pub, but that is sometimes after a ride or, if the weather is good and the company is right, near the end, when the road home is a spin and not a wobble away.
The New Year, as it seems to do just about every year, brings new challenges. This can be quite annoying. In about a year from now we’ll have yet more new challenges. Oh, how I long for a year when the days stretch in front of us with the same old obstacles we had to put up with the year before: debt, French and Irish referees on the IRB elite list, the BCCI’s refusal to cuddle before stretching for fourth base, the price of petrol, eTolls, the price of craft beer, the edict that Luis Suarez is only considered fouled if his leg has been severed, the lack of an “extra medium” clothing size and the ever-expanding, never-ending story that is Super Rugby.
The next 12 months will test the mettle of sports fans and administrators to the full. The year has sandwiched in more action than even SuperSport has channels. The challenge of choice, which can be something of a plague in this era of dithering and procrastination, will drive us a little mad. Choice is as much a burden as a gift, as dangerous in the lobes of those with wandering minds as it is to those who have trod the path of decision making for so long it has carved a furrow from one side of their brow to the other. If you have to ask, “what shall we watch?” when seated in front of the telly, then you should be slapped around the lugholes with a remote control you will never be allowed to touch again.
You should have already known what you will be watching, what time it is on, the channel and whether or not it will be shown in the heart-stopping glory that is high definition. Sport in HD came into our household only last year. When it did, I called a friend and blathered about the wonder of it and how I had managed to live without it before. He reminded me that when I usually watched sport it was either live or in a bar, and, sadly, some of the bars I hang out at do not have TVs. Indeed, my local, the Stanley Beer Yard, did not have a TV until I finally badgered them into installing a satellite dish. They did not have a TV so I let them use one of mine.
For those for whom decision making leaves them with two hands full of something they did not want, herewith a few suggestions on what to watch in this the year Zero AK (After Kallis). This is what I will be watching:
The first challenge for South African cricket will be the replacement of Jacques Kallis, although, this will be no problem at all. It would be optimistic in the extreme to think there is another Kallis. No one can replace Kallis, a once-in-a-generation player who stole another piece of my heart when he downed a beer in front of Castle Corner after that final, victorious day at Kingsmead. South Africa’s series victory, coming after the dramatic match at the Wanderers, showed, to steal the words of Darrel Bristow-Bovey, that the Proteas know how not to lose as well as how to win. That is the essence of Test cricket – battles to win wars.
Australia come here next month with the scalps of England hanging from their belts, or, in the case of Mitchell Johnson, stapled above his top lip and hanging down towards a chin that |received very little in terms of retaliation from the visitors in the Ashes. They have spoken of “fear” all series, believing England were scared of them, Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris in particular. That is, in a delightfully Australian way, a massive over-simplification of what happened. Australia’s bowling was quite magnificent at times – causing Michael Clarke to claim they were the best pace bowling attack in the world – now where have we heard that before? – but England’s failure is more complex than that, beginning long before they arrived in Australia, the first, obvious sign being Jonathan Trott’s decision to go home after losing his battle with depression. Already South Africans are touting the Proteas-Baggy Greens as a tale of two bowling attacks. It could be the Test series of the year.
What else to watch? Well, the World Cup in Brazil will be fun, even without Bafana Bafana. It may be a slightly more open tournament than ever before, as stars wane and others promise much. The uncertainty will make it more, er, fun.
South Africa should win medals at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in late July and early August, with Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos leading the charge. Four years ago at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, I was one of two South African print hacks sent to India. One assumes there will be a little more interest this time around.
May should see the Grand Tour debut by MTN-Qhubeka-Samsung, if they gain their likely wild card to the Giro d’Italia. The significance of this is |immense. The South Africans on the team, including Louis Meintjies, Jay Thomson, Songezo Jim, Jaco Venter and John Lee Augustyn, will be in the mix for the final squad, which should also include Adrien Niyonshuti, who survived the Rwandan genocide in which he lost six of his brothers. There is also the possibility of MTN-Qhubeka-Samsung being picked as a wild card to the Tour de France. There will be a gathering of Africans at the Tour, with Parkhurst’s Chris Froome attempting to defend the title he won last year (do look out for his see-through skin-suit released by manufacturer Rapha) and Daryl Impey of Orica-GreenEdge hoping for another stage win after the joy of wearing the yellow jersey last year.
And, well, that’s all we have time for this week, folks. Four choices made for you. Oh, one more. Don’t bother with the SA Sports Awards. They didn’t bother with Impey and the judging is about as thorough and authoritative as Idols.
@MichaelVaughan (Former England captain’s timeline tells the tale of England’s Ashes demise)
Sent: 3 Jan 2014 6.38am