Trust is a hard thing to find in these post-Lance Armstrong days. There are some you believe to be honest, good people purely because they are too proud and too belligerent to be otherwise. Others you hope to believe because they keep telling you they are clean. And then there’s Darren Lill and Charles Keey.
The two, who make up the newly-formed Cannondale Blend team, have signed a contract to the effect that they promise to return all of the sponsorship money invested in them, as well as perform 1000 hours of community service if they are ever caught doping. It’s a simple business relationship – if they take your money and thus your brand into their confidence, then they are contractually obliged to ensure that the brand gets the most exposure of the right kind.
Shortly after 5pm on Saturday, the driver of the Gautrain heading north towards the Centurion station gave a loud toot of approval with his horn as he rumbled around the corner that sits high above SuperSport Park. He must have heard the news that something special had been happening at the ground that day.
A young man was ripping through Pakistan like a speeding train, having a “once upon a time” debut, a batsman had scored a sweet 16th of a century and the stadium was heaving, almost full under sunny skies. It was a Test match that would have had the late Elise Lombard, who was CEO of this union for so long, looking down and smiling in satisfaction.
Elise, who passed away suddenly in August last year, is missed, sorely missed. You cannot come to SuperSport Park and not think or talk about her. There is always something to remind you of her, of some kindness she performed without thinking, and of a union that continues to be run with the quiet efficiency and class that was her trademark.
She would have loved this Test match. For one, the rain stayed away. We used to joke with her that she had the South African weather service on speed dial. A SuperSport Park Test usually meant rain on at least two days, sometimes three. But it stayed away this weekend.
The last Test of the summer was a magnificent affair. It was a truncated one, but South Africa have tended to win their matches in as short a time as possible this season. It is highly unlikely that Kyle Abbott will ignore a phone call from an unknown number at 7am again after he put Andrew Hudson on “silent” when he called last week to tell him that he was in the squad. Abbott spoke about the role that Lance Klusener, who played 10 times for South Africa in Tests and ODIs at SuperSport Park, played in his career.
“Lance has been unbelievable. I’ve mentioned his name a few times. He’s…ja… What a guy. He’s really helped me on the mental side of the game. He hasn’t come in to try to change any of my technique or anything. We’ve really tried to work on a different mental approach to bowling, on being slightly more aggressive and hitting the deck a bit harder. In the last couple of years I felt I was going through the motions a bit. He’s certainly given me a kick in the backside and a push that I needed.
“He phoned me on Thursday evening and I told him, ‘Ja, I’m playing and what-not.’ And he just went, ‘Okay. Ja. Okay. Cool. Nice one. Just keep it tiday.’ If he was going to give me any last-minute advice I don’t think it would have sunk in at that time. I was just trying to prepare for the next day.”
At the end of each day’s play, Elise extended an open invitation to the media to join her there for a post-work drink. That tradition has continued, and she would have loved the swapping of skinner, laughs and news these past few days. On Saturday night Ken Rutherford, the former captain of New Zealand, told me his son, Hamish, had just been picked for the New Zealand Test team. That called for a beer with Ruds. He was trying to work out how he was going to tell his missus that he had to go back to New Zealand to watch Hamish play. He’d just come back from a trip to watch him in the T20s. I reminded Ruds his son had scored more runs in one T20 knock than his dad had in his first few Test matches. “Mate, you don’t have to tell me. He reminded me himself.”
It was while drinking in the president’s suite that we learnt that a tree had fallen over in the parking lot next door and crushed the company car of a journalist some years ago. Elise jumped into action. She organised one of the union’s sponsored cars, which had been branded for a player who had since left the union, for the journalist to use while his was in the panel beaters.
SuperSport Park has what is possibly the only pool in the stands of an international Test ground. Elise went into partnership with Castle Lager to build the Terrace. The ICC wouldn’t let her open the pool during international games because they felt that people in the pool might be in danger from flying balls. So, she put up two poles in front of the pool area and stretched netting across it. It is the most popular stand in the ground today.
Yeah, Elise would have loved this Test match. It was a celebration of all that is good about South African cricket. Northerns, SuperSport Park and Cricket South Africa owe her an enormous amount. Her legacy will be safe in the hands of Jacques Faul, a good man who will continue the work of a good woman.
In this time of weirdness, when little makes sense, when emotions are trapped in a loop of pain and confusion, when there is more darkness than light, there is always Roger Federer. He’s the East Rand’s Roger Federer. On Tuesday, I told him that is what I often called him as his mum and dad had met in Kempton Park, as I wrote in the interview with him (see sports site).
In a poll conducted by the US-based Reputation Institute in 2011, the East Rand’s Fed was named as the second most respected man in the world. The only man ahead of him was Nelson Mandela.
When I first met Oscar Pistorius, he wasn’t sure of me. It was in the mixed zone at the Athens Olympic Stadium during the Paralympics, where the athletes have to walk a gauntlet of journalists, beginning with television before looping through the maze to the print journalists, who are at the bottom of the food chain.
Bronwyn Roets, the media liaison of the team, shepherded him towards where the small contingent of South African journalists waited, past the rest of the world’s media. They ran to get a position behind us, to catch a quote. Pistorius leant on the fence, his carbon-fibre blades are not made to stand still and his balance was a little iffy. He bounced from foot to foot. He spoke well. Then later he called Vata Ngobeni, now the sports editor of the Pretoria News, to ask about this “Kevin” guy he’d spoken to. Ngobeni said I was okay, and that was enough for Pistorius. At every race he would make a beeline to where I stood. If the rest of the world wanted to speak to him, they’d have to wait until he had spoken to the South Africans first.
It started as a whisper and then turned into a roar, an almost incomprehensible avalanche of speculation rolling around a few simple facts. A girl had been shot and had died in the house of Oscar Pistorius. One life had been ended, another would never be the same again.
It was a morning of madness, when Twitter’s propensity to be a kangaroo court went into hysterical hyperdrive, when rumour became truth and truth was hard to find. It was a morning when Oscar Pistorius, perhaps the most famous South African sportsman of them all, divided the country he had done much to unite. At first they, we, all of us looked for an excuse to pardon Pistorius from the allegation that he had shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend. He had thought she was a thief, they said, which sounded plausible in South Africa with its crime statistics. It was all just a horrible, tragic mistake.
But as the morning drew on, the mood changed, the tide turned against Pistorius. The trolls came crawling out from under the bridges, “legless” jokes about his disability were told, one by John Cleese, which came as a surprise from a man who should really know better. Tales of reports and emails from neighbours of Pistorius were added to the mix. There had been shouting, arguing and then shots fired. The police spokeswoman told journalists that there had been incidents of a “domestic” nature at the house of Pistorius in the past, a vague term that could refer to anything from loud music to domestic violence. They would not confirm that it was Pistorius who has been arrested, but said that they would oppose bail. A friend sent me a message: “It’s a clusterfuck of a story. It doesn’t look good for Oscar.”
No matter how this turns out, nothing will ever be the same for Pistorius. His life is forever changed, the shadow of this tragedy will be with him forever. I do not know whether he is guilty or not. It is too early to tell, too soon to make predictions on the outcome of the legal proceedings that will follow. It will be the biggest news story of the year, and the jokes, rumours, speculation and truth will continue to be jumbled up until one day we come to a conclusion.
Through it all, we should take the time to remember that a beautiful woman has died, a bright future has been snuffed out. I met her once, briefly, with Pistorius at the Virgin Active Sports Industry Awards last week. I chatted with Pistorius for a spell, then promised to call him this week for a story on his upcoming season. Steenkamp briefly smiled as I said goodbye. She’ll never smile again. A life has been lost, and that is the greatest tragedy of all.