How calm South Africans took cricket world by storm
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There is something wonderfully appropriate about South Africa's ascent to number one in Test cricket, indeed in all forms. They have long postured, threatened, have sighted the goal, briefly ascended to it, but for someone who love to play hard cricket have always given the impression of being vulnerable challengers. This time there is an air of permanency though their old, but currently underperforming adversaries, Australia, might refute that in what promises to be a sumptuous series later this year.
I have always been intrigued by South Africa, for they have always had the players to be the best. But I sometimes thought they looked upon every day as a battle to be won than as a game to be enjoyed; that their intensity consumed them rather than the opposition; that having been away from international cricket for so long, they wanted to prove a point everytime they took the field. I got the impression, and to be honest this is an impression derived from a hundred yards away, sometimes a few hundred kilometres away, that they were constantly at war, hardly ever playing a sport.
And this intensity was probably part of their ethos. I remember working with some of the best cameramen in the world in the early years of South Africa's return. If their team lost, the normally fun guys turned sullen, locked themselves in and gave the impression of being vanquished in a duel in the jungle. You could try telling them that tomorrow would be another day but it never worked. They had lost and they almost punished themselves.
So what's changed now? Apart from the fact that Australia are in a difficult transition, and teams like India and England are struggling to play in overseas conditions, I think too that a couple of players have turned older, are starting to look back, maybe have acquired a different perspective, and two fine cricketers have made a telling contribution and taken the pressure away from some others.