New Year, same old expectations. As a sports-mad country, we measure the success of each passing year by the results that we produce across the world, be they individual or through our national teams.
The years 1995 and 2007 were great vintages, for obvious reasons – 1996 was doubly special, with Bafana successful, as well as some fairy-tales at the Atlanta Olympics.
The festive season re-runs of the Bok Saga on SuperSport have also served as a reminder of some big years for the Springboks. Regardless of the political climate during 2009, patriotic sports fans will remember it as the year PDV’s manne defeated the British and Irish Lions, and then scooped the Tri-Nations.
This year will be no different, although we will sadly play no part in the biggest sporting event on the planet, the Brazil World Cup.
Bafana Bafana ended last year on a high of sorts, beating the mighty Spain, at the scene of the latter’s greatest triumph. Yes, it was a friendly, and it didn’t even have any significant bearing on our world ranking, but it did show what Gordon Igesund’s team can do when they turn up.
Now it’s time to restore pride in the national jersey. Once-off wins against the world’s best are all well and good, but what Bafana really have to deliver is a tournament performance.
The Chan tournament, despite the underwhelming reception it has met on the streets, is an early chance for Igesund and his team to get the nation behind them. Just a year ago, they briefly flirted with another Cinderella story, but then bowed out in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
They have few excuses in the Chan event, however, with most of our players eligible for a tournament that is for local-based players only. If the current crop of established stars cannot deliver, even on this lesser stage, then the time is ripe for Igesund to look to the future and blood some hungry youngsters.
No one has the divine right to play for Bafana forever, especially when the results don’t match the hype our footballers enjoy.
And speaking of hype, it’s important that we as a nation don’t lavish too much of it on the young but explosive shoulders of Quinton de Kock.
The growing chorus for him to be handed Jacques Kallis’ Test spot is a little premature. He’s barely found his feet at franchise level, and although he has been a revelation in the ODI side, Test cricket is a different kettle of fish – especially against the cock-a-hoop Aussies.
What every cricket fan will want from the Proteas this year is some silverware. Kallis was the last of the Protea survivors from that fateful 1999 World Cup, and Russell Domingo now has a young squad that is predominantly cricket born-frees, with little emotional baggage.
The World Twenty20 is an ideal platform to show the world that the only C-words that exist in the South African dressing-room now are confidence, character and composure.
Finally, the Boks have the most unenviable task of the lot. Trying to hang on to the coat-tails of the All Blacks may well be the shortest straw in international team sport, because they just seem to get better every year.
And as they showed against Ireland, in their last fixture last year that they can find a way to sneak wins, even when they only turn in 20-minute performances.
Heyneke Meyer is now less than two years away from the World Cup, and the time for tinkering is almost at an end. One wonders if there is still a place for the bullocking Schalk Burger in his plans, such is the embarrassment of riches we have at loose forward.
But whatever combination Meyer picks, they need to find a way to close the gap on New Zealand. Being second best in the world is usually a worthy accolade, but it’s not much fun when the guy in front of you is so far ahead, you can barely make them out. - Sunday Independent