“You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you get to dress for all of them”
Those immortal lines were spoken by the baseball player that Joe DiMaggio called the best and fastest pitcher he ever faced. The player was Satchel Paige, who many felt should have preceded Jackie Robinson as the first player to break the infamous colour line in segregated America. He played until he was 59, or even 61, depending on which birth documents were correct.
Last week I stuck my neck out and declared that the Proteas have found something special in the new regime under Ottis Gibson. A few readers accused me of being OTT and snorted that it was early days to make such an outrageous claim. However, I recognised what I saw in Cape Town because I have experienced it when a sports team gets inspired. It is metamorphic when it happens. It was there to see in the body language, demeanour and performance of the players.
However, I must confess to being a bit nervous going into Supersport Park, especially when an Indian wicket was revealed. You see hats are there to be eaten. You win a few, you lose a few.
The optimism was repaid in spades and suddenly all seems well with our cricket. The shambles of the T20 Global League debacle and the poor series against England are forgotten. We have just outplayed the best team in the world, shown real fighting spirit, fielded like supermen (fielding is the symptom of spirit in cricket), and in the process, discovered a real diamond in the fast bowling stakes. A pretty good week overall.
There was one shot on the TV that was telling. Lungi Ngidi had just taken a wicket and, for a moment, he and Kagiso Rabada were together in shot. Suddenly it was like déjà vu. Here were two young, lanky, black athletes right at the top of the world fast bowling tree. They looked relaxed yet they radiated raw muscular menace. People of my vintage have seen it before. We saw it and were scared.
Lungi reminds one of Patrick Patterson or Wayne Daniel from the generation before. Look at the shoulders. Look at the smile. Kagiso is more fluid in his action and reminds one of Michael Holding or a less jerky Andy Roberts. The great thing, or scary thing, depending on your favour, is that Ottis Gibson has just started with these two youngsters. Even veterans Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander bowled degrees better than they have of late. How much improvement can we expect under the coach who transformed England? Much, I predict.
The reaction to the win has been lovely. That these two young bowlers led the charge has been recognised as symbolic and important as our sport transforms and develops. However, that both went to top private schools, as did Temba Bavuma, has also been noted. There is nothing wrong with that. However, how much potential is out there that is not being picked up and given expert tuition? How much is lost in the system? How can this pair inspire and captivate a whole new generation of cricketers of all backgrounds?
The answer to the last is easy. Keep bowling fast and knocking over batsmen and strong young kids will want to copy you. Cricket is back at the top of the cool tree. That is an opportunity, let’s not waste it.
On the subject of barrier breaking athletes, it was sad to learn of the death of Cyril Regis during the week. When black soccer players were rare in England, he, Brendan Batson and the late Laurie Cunningham starred for West Bromwich Albion. Cyril was built a bit like a fast bowler and was a marvellous leader of the forward line. He was only 59.
You win a few, you lose a few. The point is to recognise and maximise the influence of the people who can make a difference to their worlds. Sport can do that.