I cannot help but wonder how Australian coach Mickey Arthur felt after South Africa beat Australia in the final test match to lose the series and their shot at toppling the South Africans as the No. 1 ranked test side in world cricket.
Arthur of course is a South African and about as South African as they come. He’s a ‘Vaalie’ – born on the highlands of the old Transvaal – and played all his provincial cricket in South Africa for the Free State and Griqualand West.
He was appointed coach of the South African team in 2005 and the last time he visited Australia (in a professional sense) just four years ago he coached them to arguably their greatest ever test series win – and their first ever series victory against Australia – since being re-admitted into world cricket in 1991.
Having fallen out with the South African cricket authorities in 2010, he coached Western Australia for a season and was then appointed Australia’s first foreign-born coach in November last year.
Now I am not for one moment suggesting that Arthur is not a thorough professional and has not given it his all as Australian coach – and let’s be honest they outplayed South Africa in the first two tests and could easily have been No.1 in the world at the end of this series had it not been for FaF Du Plessis’s heroics in the second test – but I find it hard to imagine that Mickey Arthur did not take some pleasure in watching his old team and the players he coached just a few season ago win against the odds against the country of his birth’s greatest sporting rivals.
I have lived in Australia for over eight years, my daughter is Australian and my wife holds and Australian passport and yet I cannot bring myself to support the Australian cricket team or the Wallabies.
In fact I am sure they will put on my grave one day – “He died a Bok fan.”
You see the thing is this, when you grow up in South Africa, beating Australia in any sport (even lawn bowls and darts) is considered the ultimate victory.
Rivalries run very deep between the two sporting nations, and not least because there is a great deal of respect for Australia’s sporting prowess.
South Africans consider Australia one of the great sporting nations – especially when it comes to cricket – and while we have managed to beat all the other teams on a regular basis, beating the Baggy Greens has been tough – this win is only our second ever Test series triumph since re-admission.
I found these two comments on the Supersport website (the equivalent of Fox Sports in South Africa) at the bottom of a story about the latest series win:
“South Africa clobbered Australia. It was so easy, it was scary!”
“Amazing always good to thrash the ozzies.”
Personally, I remember waking up in the early hours of the morning or watching through the night games played against Australia through the 1990s – mostly on the losing side, occasionally a much-savoured win.
The truth is being a South African cricket fan is being the ultimate sporting tragic.
A lot of times it’s been an exercise in heartache – primarily when it comes to World Cups, when we have conjured up defeats from the jaws of victory, and must live with the scars of the 1999 World Cup semi-final tie that will go down as the greatest choke in our rich sporting history, plus the sad saga of Hansie Cronje.
There are many South African expats living in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne who say they support the Australian cricket team and the Wallabies, but I have yet to meet any that I believed with any conviction.
Equally there are South Africans who have lived here many decades who still support the Proteas and Springboks and that I suspect will be me too.
It’s not that I have some deep-seated animosity to the Baggy Greens or the Wallabies, it’s just in my blood.
And it’s also surely in the blood of Mickey Arthur – who is more South African than me.
And though he will surely deny it, I am sure he did take some pleasure out of watching the team he coached to their greatest win four years ago win again this week.
After all, he’s only human!
(And the same I am sure can be said for Robbie Deans, New Zealand-born and raised coach of the Wallabies).