Unlike bosses at CSA, Proteas crystal clear about where they stand at this World Cup
A city under construction, Pune is attempting to put itself on the map and move away from being just a place 150km away from the glitz of Mumbai.
The city resembles one enormous building site; from the numerous pylons, upon which the new metro system will be built, to the countless apartment blocks going up in a city that has become an IT hub, a centre of higher education and a key manufacturer in the motor industry.
In seeking its own identity Pune, where the Proteas meet New Zealand at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Wednesday, is taking risks by attracting younger citizens and giving them reason to hope this is a city where they can thrive.
The Proteas are attempting something similar. They knew coming into this tournament the comparisons long made with the Springboks would be even sharper this year, given that the Rugby and Cricket World Cups would overlap.
They, too, are trying to attract an audience to their campaign, one drunk on success once more from the rugby team and undoubtedly keen for more from the cricketers. However, scepticism reigns supreme when it comes to the Proteas.
Years of World Cup disappointment and the recent administrative drama at CSA have made the South African public wary of liberally supporting a team and sport in which simply winning hasn’t always been the primary goal.
Cricket SA’s statement on Tuesday, just hours before the world champion Springboks touched down in Johannesburg, illustrated an organisation that doesn’t understand that. Calling for “a groundswell of unwavering support from fans at home”, and stating it is “imperative we stand behind them as they fly the flag on the world stage” because “our cricketers are not just athletes; they are ambassadors of our nation and carry our hopes and dreams”, represents a complete misreading of how the Boks created support, not just in the last few weeks, but years.
Fortunately for CSA — again — the players understand exactly why it’s through deeds on the field and not words in a statement that they can win the public back to their side.
“From our side, you realise there's people at home and fans that have been really scarred by previous performances of South Africa and World Cups,” said Rassie van der Dussen. “And you can’t really criticise them for feeling that way.”
“The criticism, I suppose, comes from a place of hurt where they’ve seen that movie before. But personally, and I think it goes for probably most of the people in our squad and management team, we haven’t lived that.”
The players, because they’re the face of the sport, bear the brunt of the public’s ire.
“The situations we have faced in the last four years, whether it be Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, the Social Justice and Nation Building hearings, various political stories back home that we had to manage as a team, have forced us to pull together as a team. Has made us very tight off the field and got to know each other intimately.”
The support from the public will grow, but until they actually win a playoff match, scepticism about the Proteas will remain.
Wednesday’s match against New Zealand comes at a crucial time in the campaign. The Black Caps are one of the smartest, most resourceful groups in the tournament and even though they’ve lost their last two matches — against table-toppers India and then narrowly to a resurgent Australia — they’ll provide a searching examination of the Proteas’ hitherto well-worked game plan.
The Kiwis are expecting a test, too. “They’re a team that’s running pretty hot at the moment,” said New Zealand captain Tom Latham of South Africa.
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