This is a published article in Couchexpert
Cricketers come in all sorts. Some restless who can’t sleep a wink before the Test, some carefree, some free spirited, some meticulous, some superstitious—none of which can guarantee success, but each can in pursuit of individual excellence and collective results. It can get complicated: money, fame, expectation, and the pressures that come with it. The better ones understand what works best for them and try to remain in the mental frame that gives them the best chance of succeeding.
It is often overlooked that young boys and men with varying personalities and backgrounds—most certainly in both India and South Africa—come together for five days on the field to achieve a result. Some succeed, but most fail. The ones delivering at the final stages of the game walk away with the limelight, though victories are constructed and achieved over the five days. And often it means different things to people within the team itself: some on their last legs who may never experience it again, some for the first time who don’t know how many more is in store for them, and some after a long time who don’t know if they will be around when it is the next time!
And often, for a lot of them including the game, certain things matter more than the result itself. When Duminy and de Villiers scripted a famous chase in Perth two years ago, it showed the giant strides post-aparthied South Africa had made as a cricket nation. True that the quota system still rankles many in that country and have affected a lot of cricketers who seek refuge in the UK, as Kolpak players and even those who try to qualify to play for England. But it also showed progress of cricket in a nation that is spread across society and colour.
The day might not be far when a Muslim with Indian roots will lead South Africa. It would be a huge statement considering that football is still seen as a predominantly black man’s game and rugby as that of the white man. Recently, they embraced the idea of playing two spinners in spin-friendly conditions, not seen previously as their forte. They might not have always won under extreme-pressure, but perhaps, they have got it right with regards to their cricket and its progress and development. Kallis, Donald, and Pollock have been great cricketers—the best of their kind. Who is to say Amla, de Villiers, and Steyn won’t? And they are not far away from being the best Test side in the world either. Perhaps that vindicates their progress on all counts.
On the other hand, India has its own tussles. A country brimming with growth and confidence but also a nation where corruption is widespread and cricket a national pastime like no other. All Indians are armchair critics with opinion more from the heart and widely fluctuating from one game to the other. After all, million dollar business acquisitions and million dollar scams can appear side-by-side on its newspaper front pages on the same day. Success and failure can be measured by the quantity of runs and wickets than the quality of wickets and opposition. Relative comparison is the order of all Indian families, from entrance exam results to cricket scores.
Cricket has managed to survive the many changes with the country, the many divides from culture to class, language to religion; it has managed to survive the chaos it can be and move on—from the time when each religion fielded its team in the Bombay Pentangular to the top of the official Test rankings and conceiving the most successful and controversial cricket league.
Tendulkar, Dravid, and Laxman may never tour South Africa again. But they represent the India who fight odds but still make it big in their fields. It shows endurance, courage, and more than anything else, that pursuing excellence often yields results. May be that is the lesson many of the IPL generation needs to learn from them.
So when India squares off against South Africa in a few hours time in what would be a crucial Test for the many that take part in it, how it might change the lives of many based on its outcome, and how the winning team and its supporters might lay claim to be best team in the world, let’s also understand that they are the best two cricketing nations; for they may have embraced a lot more than just cricket to be best in the world.
Let the game begin!