There are few worse sights for a South African sports fan than to wake up to a smug smile plastered across an Aussie face as he celebrates yet more success.
The grin on Michael Clarke’s face seems to grow wider by the week, as he continues to spank our bowlers to all parts Down Under. For those who stayed up for the first day, it was a nightmare; for those who woke up to hear it on the radio or see it in the endless replays on SuperSport, there were very nearly 500 good reasons to go back to bed.
And yet, perhaps we need to acknowledge that Clarke’s continued success is down to one thing that is usually lacking from our own sportsmen or, worse, our coaches.
It is the same issue that has been so crippling to the Boks this year, the same issue that makes Barcelona more memorable than Real Madrid and the French rugby team more compelling than the English, despite the latter winning a World Cup.
Clarke, like the aforementioned teams above, plays with a relentless pursuit to entertain, a commitment to get better and reach heights that many opponents simply don’t care to think about.
To a man, Barcelona and Les Bleus refuse to try to win ugly. They would rather lose, while daring to push boundaries, than grind out an ugly 1-0 win to satisfy the points table.
It’s a question of style, a matter of personal pride. To win ugly would be an affront to their paying fans, who demand that each display carries with it a signature of brilliance, even in defeat.
The Boks, on their end-of-year sojourn, have played under a mantra that says we want to win, however ugly it may look. The pig’s ear of a win in Scotland will never win a Miss World crown, but we, as a pained public, have learnt to take it.
Consider the way the French plundered Australia, in similar conditions, and we see that running rugby and Northern Hemisphere conditions are a marriage that can work, if there is a will.
The current series Down Under has also shown two different ways to approach a contest. The South African batsmen, brilliantly led by Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis in recent years, will bat all day and wear down an attack.
Contrastingly, Clarke and his mob thrive on not just batting for long periods, but they do it whilst scoring at a rate that pulverises attacks and moves the game forward rampantly.
Test hundreds, by their nature, are special. They are the mark of excellence, endurance, skill and bravado against fast and slow men, the vagaries of the weather and a battle of will. This year, Clarke has conquered every obstacle as Aussie captain and done so with a smile on his face and a swagger at the crease.
He has turned around a sceptical Aussie audience by sheer volume of performance and also elevated himself into the pantheon of great batsmen from Down Under. Belatedly, there are those who have started comparing his exploits to the great Don himself. It is never a good idea.
Graeme Smith was once compared to Bradman, during a golden summer – studded by daring double hundreds of his own – in 2003, when he took England to the sword.
Modern batsmen, such as Mahela Jayawardene, Ricky Ponting, Kallis et al, have all enjoyed run-gluts that have taken them to the top of the ICC rankings.
But, what makes Clarke’s vintage of 2012 extra special is the manner he has done it. Not once has he taken the foot off the gas. Apparently, both Smith and AB de Villiers routinely reminded him how lucky he was on his way to his 230 in Adelaide. As they say, fortune favours the brave.
Our national teams and their coaches, would do well to remember that old adage. – Sunday Tribune