The last couple of weeks in social media have shown that we really are a nation prone to hysteria and thoroughly unreasonable presumptions. And I’m not referring to Penny Sparrow or Velaphi Khumalo, both of whose outrageous comments have been met with the storm of disgust they deserve.
Instead, it is the treatment of the South African cricket team, and especially players like Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma, that has irritated me immensely.
We have a tendency in this country to criticise and call for this person or that person to “Fall”, never considering context, whether there is someone capable of replacing the subject of our derision, or the many great things the person may have done in the recent past.
South African cricket fans can count themselves blessed beyond measure that they have a person like Hashim Amla representing them: a truly great batsman respected worldwide and a person of tremendous fortitude, integrity and decency, a colossal figure in uniting the dressingroom.
But a bad year, capped by a poor performance in Durban in the Boxing Day Test, and Amla was being crucified, so-called Proteas supporters spewing vitriol at one of this country’s finest men. I was not surprised when he decided to relinquish the captaincy; having taken it on reluctantly, doing it out of a noble sense of duty, the hysteric reaction to his mistakes and the struggles of the team would have hurt and almost certainly contributed to his feeling that someone else could do the job better.
I can remember when Graeme Smith – South Africa’s most successful Test leader – started the captaincy: He made mistakes too, but he was given time to grow into the position and learn from those errors. Of course, Smith fitted the public perception that a captain should be square-jawed and vocal, leading from the front; but some great leaders lead by example and are more cerebral, in the mould of Mike Brearley, who turned England cricket around.
AB de Villiers can certainly do the job, but does he have the desire to play in every Test (as the captain must) for the next five years, plus handle the onerous off-field duties of the skipper, having already complained about his workload?
Amla revealed his feeling in his post-match press conference that he was doubted due to his skin colour and despite his domestic figures suggesting he was eminently qualified for the step up. The treatment of Bavuma these last couple of weeks shows that Amla has a point and that old prejudices still run deep.
Bavuma is but at the start of his international career and yet was written off by many critics, few of whom have paid any attention to domestic cricket, where the 25-year-old has consistently been amongst the leading run-scorers in the Sunfoil Series. Bavuma had batted seven times in Tests before his breakthrough, superb century at Newlands, scoring one half-century but showing enough mental grit and adaptability, especially in India, to suggest he could prosper.
Jacques Kallis took eight innings to get past 50 for the first time and made his first century in his 10th knock.
I have the unmistakeable feeling, as one person suggested on social media, that being a player of colour in the national team brings with it an automatic tainting, an attitude that quotas have earned them the place, that they are mediocre until they prove otherwise several times.
Apart from the continued and inexplicable absence of Stephen Cook as a specialist opener, the current players in the South African squad are the best available in the country. The domestic figures show that and perhaps the critics should study the game at all levels and ditch the prejudices of the past.
In the meantime, we should all savour the magnificent comeback by the Proteas in Cape Town, a sure sign that the spirit and fight remains and the leadership within the squad is still sound.