Time for dose of reality

The performance of South Africa's sporting teams should always be put into perspective, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

This time the good news came via the Lions and the Bulls. But it’s the lack of consistency among South Africa’s Vodacom Super Rugby challenge that asks more questions than it gives answers.

The Lions were tenacious and tough in a history-making overseas campaign. They won three times for the first time ever and deserve every plaudit for getting the wins.

But here’s the kicker: they beat teams that are 11th (Rebels), 14th (Reds) and 15th (Blues) in the league. The Reds and Blues have one combined win in 12 starts. The Lions haven’t beaten anyone in the top eight. 

We’re not a sporting nation that appreciates the reality of our teams’ performances.

South Africa’s sporting public operates on raw emotion. Touch the heart strings and all is well. The South African sporting public, by way of their reaction, seems to love a good loser. Alternatively, the blame is invariably directed at the match official.

But perspective isn’t a popular word among our sporting fans. Yup, I am generalising, but it’s a generalisation based on 25-plus years of writing about South African rugby and cricket teams and experiencing the reaction of fans, who believe that perspective is a word that can never sit comfortably alongside patriotism.

Why not?

Why can’t we will our teams to success but appreciate the realities of the situation. The Lions have won the hearts of so many because they refuse to surrender.

It’s a quality that makes the South African supporter proud by association, unlike those teams who implode when expected to win. And the players in those teams who then get accused of lacking passion, hunger and for only being interested in the cash.

South African supporters, through my experience and through a glance at the social media forums, are among the most ignorant and arrogant. But they are also among the most emotional and passionate.

The Lions are the flavour of the month, unlike the Stormers and Cheetahs, who have left so many bemused.

Again, my reference is the many rugby social media forums. Again, there is no allowance made of perspective or a dose of reality. It is not exclusive to rugby. Cricket gets the same treatment.

If it stirs the heart it's OK, but if there’s not the romance of an heroic defeat then there’s more venom and hatred than there is hugging and caressing.

The Proteas cricketers lost three of their four big matches at the World Cup, and in the past 18 months they won 11 out of 27 against teams considered top five opposition.

But the semi-final exit against New Zealand, when South African-born, schooled and raised Grant Elliot smashed Dale Steyn for six, has been excused because of the manner in which we lost. It is argued we lost heroically. We lost with grace. We lost with style and we lost but won in the eyes of the neutral and the cricketing world.

There were some who chose to blame quotas and Vernon Philander’s selection ahead of Kyle Abbott. Philander is the quickest South African bowler to 100 Test wickets. To use him and quotas in the same sentence is an insult to the player’s pedigree.

Steyn, the world’s best Test bowler for the last six years, hasn’t been as influential in ODIs. He also appeared to struggle with fitness at the tournament and his performance against New Zealand, when he conceded, 76 runs in 8.5 overs, was his worst ODI return. Steyn and not Philander should have been the talking point. But I digress.

What should have been the talking point is that the Proteas were never good enough to win the World Cup and the results are a reflection that a team that boasted some of the game’s best individuals, was not the best team.

There was also little consideration given to the absurdity of finding a batsman who could bowl when so many were so quick to retire Jacques Kallis, who just happened to be the greatest batsman who could bowl in the modern era. Kallis was told he was too old yet the nearly 37-year-old Elliot didn’t seem too old when playing the innings of his ODI career in beating the Proteas.

Which brings me back to the rugby. Every week brings a different emotion. Every week brings a different view on a different player.

It is all emotionally driven and invariably it is aimed at players being too old or players being too small.

The game needs greater perspective, among the supporters and among the storytellers who report on the game.

Our rugby, like our cricket, is not in a state of chaos and in free fall. But many of our players and teams aren’t good enough to be No 1 or to win big tournaments.

And from what I have seen there isn’t a South African team good enough to win this season’s Super Rugby title, which shouldn’t be translated as there aren’t any good South African Super Rugby teams.

Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images