Be a sport

The voluble Graeme Smith and his Proteas returned home from their tour of Australia, suitably chastened by their crushing 3-0 Test defeat at the hands of Ponting's modern-day "Invincibles" — but still with plenty to say, in a vengeful frame of mind and looking to turn the tables on Australia in the rubber and one-day competition. Sadly their proposed future revenge has taken an ugly turn.

The Johannesburg rumour mills allegedly have it that the South Africans, at the instigation of senior player and wicket-keeper Mark Boucher and his "Minute Men" minions are intent on whipping up the tit-for-tat anger of the "Rainbow Nation's" cricket spectators, inciting them to hassle the visiting Aussies when they take the field. In a word, to treat Ponting's men as they imagine they were treated in Australia.

Many observers of the game will say that such is only what the visitors deserve, since it amounts to no more than pay-back for the accusations of supposed racial prejudice hurled at Smith's men by the normally sporting Sydney and Melbourne crowds over the past four months. Nor is it any more than a shameful repetition of the hurtful abuse allegedly directed at Gilchrist and his family by South African gossips on their last visit to the high veldt.

Ironically, Gilchrist played down those slanderous attacks, by turning them to his advantage as an incentive motivational factor, which when he last visited the Republic, yielded him a double-ton in a Test. He hopes to use the same tool to his advantage in his return fixtures with the Proteas.

I cannot admit to being delighted by such off-the-field manoeuvres, which in my eyes are just another example of the "mental disintegration" policy endorsed by former Aussie skipper, Steve Waugh, and tolerated by many of his fellow Test captains around the world during his tenure of office. I always counter such fifth-column subterfuges with the question: "What happened to Sportsmanship?" It surely is resorting to gamesmanship extremes when spectators are permitted to intrude into a sport and by their actions add to their side's advantage and their own vicarious but wrongful satisfaction?

Why are supporters allowed to distract opposing players with " Mexican Waves" which are accompanied by hoots of derision and which deposit showers of debris from the stands on the heads of inoffensive outfielders?

During a recent Limited Overs final the game between Australia and Sri Lanka at the Melbourne Cricket Ground had to be halted for the outfield to be cleared of drink bottles and plastic cups hurled by the crowd at the deep third-man and fine-leg fieldsmen. Surely not a sporting gesture. Star Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan threatened to withdraw from the recent tour of Australia if the local spectators continued to harass him on the score of his dubious, but officially approved, action with calls of "no ball" and "Chucker." In the final analysis Murali toured, but that did not stem the occasional no-ball call from the crowd. Then, of course, came the ultimate crowd insult, the abuse of the South Africans, accusing them of racism — in africkaans!!!!! It is simply not good enough for a game of top-class cricket. And such incidents do nothing to focus the concentration so essential to the performances of Test players.

There was a time when decisions about a disputed catch were resolved by the batsman asking the fielder who claimed the dismissal whether he had taken the catch cleanly. And rarely did a bowler appeal when he knew the batsman was not out. I recall an incident at the Oval at a crucial time of an Ashes Test, when the strong man of the Aussie pace attack, Neil Hawke, collided with England batsman, Ken Barrington, as the latter embarked on a single and the bowler — a fearless Aussie Rules footballer — followed through. "The Colonel" Barrington was flattened and left miles out of his crease as the return arrived with 'keeper Wally Grout. "Griz" took the return, refused to take off the bails and relayed the ball back to the bowler. Would today's game make such a generous gesture to an opponent? I doubt it — but I haven't forgotten it.

The sad part of the modern ultra-competitive approach to international cricket is that it robs the game of the friendly ambience which once characterised the approach of the participants in all games and at all levels to a sport which used to be played between friends. Nowadays, however, I feel that I would need to don many pairs of rose-coloured spectacles if I were to imbue the Australia-South Africa series with any semblance of amicability. I foresee many sunlit days of cricket in the Cape ruined by impetuous player statements on the field, in the press, from spectators in the outer — which saddens me.

We live in a time of "professional fouls" in sport: an era when footballers will deliberately infringe the laws of a game to prevent the ultimate disgrace of conceding a deciding goal. From there it is but a short step to violating the laws of cricket in order to take a wicket or prevent the taking of a catch. Why? Simply because the emphasis on winning or losing dominates the thinking on sport at the highest level. The manner in which results are achieved seems not to be important. Yet real satisfaction for the individual player more often than not emanates from the knowledge that he has achieved a personal goal in the best manner of which he is capable. One can emerge from a lost game, glowing with the satisfaction of having performed at one's optimum level.

One final observation: I remember a county wicket-keeper renowned on the first-class circuit for his sharp practices — one of which involved producing a clicking noise by flicking the finger of one of his gloves against the palm of the other whenever the ball passed close to the outside edge of the bat — the whole ploy being accompanied by a loud appeal for a catch behind.

The umpires, once apprised of the chicanery, made life unbearable for its perpetrator. Each time he batted and was hit on the pads, or came close to edging the ball, the unanimous umpire's response was the upraised index finger. He left the game after a brief career. Which only goes to show that sporting fulfilment comes from upright intrinsic satisfaction and not necessarily from winning — and that what goes around, comes around!