Chris Gayle enjoys his work
Professional sport is a serious business – livelihoods are at stake, there’s money invested and returns expected and, as Twitter shows all too depressingly, there’s emotions invested too. But there has to be room for a bit of joy, for a bit of perspective, for a bit of the humanity lurking somewhere below the execution of gameplans.
Chris Gayle doesn’t always seem to care as much as he ought. He’s remarked on his antipathy towards Test cricket, been exiled after rows with the WICB and, with that talent, he probably should have scored more runs and taken more wickets (though his record is hardly shabby). But, when the mood takes him, nobody shares the joy of the game more. The big man with the big personality knows that the crowd are part of the show and the crowd loves him for it.
In the West Indies’ World Twenty20 victory in Sri Lanka, he took time out from the business at hand to have a little fun. In warning Eoin Morgan that he was stealing a yard or two backing up, he took the opportunity to do it Gangnam Style. His grin lit up the tropical night and, after some initial confusion from Morgan and Asad Rauf, they also enjoyed his showmanship.
Yes there was a world trophy at stake and yes players must respect the team and their nations / regions and yes humour can backfire, but Gayle got this right – and gave me one of my moments of 2012.
Faf du Plessis spans the world to keep his team at Number One
As England’s heartstopping draw at Cardiff in 2009 showed, sport’s raison d’etre – the division of participants into winners and losers – doesn’t always matter in cricket.
Faf du Plessis was only playing in Adelaide because JP Duminy had pulled up lame in the first Test and – at least from the perspective of Lancashire fans who had seen his underwhelming spell as overseas player at Old Trafford – because he must have been the only South African in Australia who had a pair of boots to hand. He might do a job in the hit and giggle stuff, but a Test player? Faf? C’mon now.
Some of those doubts were dispelled by a fighting 78 in the first innings, coming in four down and over 300 behind another Michael Clarke inspired 500+ score. But nobody, nobody, expected Faf to bat all day for the draw, initially supported by AB de Villiers, then Jacques Kallis and then, as tension rose, the tail. But that’s what he did, securing the draw, breaking the bodies, if not the spirits, of the Aussie bowling and setting up the decider, inevitably won by South Africa. The Mace was retained.
All around the world (I was in Dusseldorf Airport) cricket fans were following the innings, willing Faf to bring it home. Not because of any allegiance to Graeme Smith’s men or dislike of Michael Clarke’s, but because of the romance of the tale of the little guy stepping up to become the hero. And because, we knew that this was not just one of the great debut innings, but the greatest innings of the decade so far. And it was Faf – FFS Faf – playing it!
Hashim Amla accepts the applause
I’m not sure it happens in other sports – it’s hard to appreciate the opposition when you’re on the end of a real hammering in football or rugby or anything else in which you have an interest. You might just enjoy the “I was there” stories you can tell when time has salved the wound, but while it’s happening, it’s hurting.
Except (maybe) in cricket. Few England fans resented Viv Richards his awesome 189* at Old Trafford and Brian Lara’s monuments were appreciated for their extraordinary record-breaking. But things moved on a little at The Oval, where Hashim Amla had serenely progressed to 277 and faced up to a toiling Tim Bresnan. For the umpteenth time, Amla stroked the ball to the cover boundary and every man, woman and child at a packed Oval were on their feet.
In the past, cricket tragics like me might have been aware of the landmark, but there would be no guarantee in the age before Cricinfo and the deluge of onscreen stats we get today. But social media, earpiece radios and computerised scoreboards, meant that everyone knew that the South African record Test score had been secured.
And, I suspect, in the heart of one of the world’s most multicultural cities, in its most gloriously multicultural summer of sport, there was also a desire to mark the transformation of South African cricket, the torch for which has passed seamlessly from Makhaya Ntini to Hashim Amla. In the embrace of Kallis and Amla, one felt the confluence of the past, present and future of South African society and South African cricket – indeed, world society and world cricket – and the crowd wanted to part of it. They were.