CRICKET South Africa recently released a three DVD set entitled The Road to No. 1, highlighting the Proteas taking charge at the top of the ICC Test rankings.
Two of the discs highlight the series in England and Australia, the Proteas getting their hands on the cherished mace after beating England 2-0 in their back yard and then heading Down Under to deal with the Aussies.
The other disc is a fascinating insight into how the Proteas reached the pinnacle of world cricket, their plans, vision, goals and passion in wanting to be the best.
To the casual onlooker, it comes across that these gifted and selected cricketers enjoy the high life, playing the game they love, earning big cash and spending time on the golf course, when cricket allows.
Sure, it’s a lifestyle envied by many, but like any job, it takes work and continued effort to reap the seeds of success.
Like any organisation, there are ups and downs, think-tank sessions, team-building experiences and discussions, all geared to ensure the business of playing cricket stays above the profit line, making players, officials and fans happy.
It’s a fickle business and when the customers — the fans — are not happy, pressure builds and it becomes a matter of hanging in for survival.
This documentary is a fitting tribute to Graeme Smith and his men, the team behind the scenes and what it meant to the team to achieve its goal.
Gary Kirsten was the Protea coach then and the journey started with the trip to Switzerland, where the players met Mike Horn, an intrepid adventurer who has conquered mountains, rivers and most of nature’s challenging obstacles.
He inspired the principles of leadership, decision making, self belief and teamwork in getting the squad to scale mountains and take on challenges they would never have believed possible.
It planted the seed for what lay ahead and, when analysing the Proteas’ performances in the series against England and Australia, it’s clear to see where they found their resolve and how they overcame bad sessions on the field.
Beating England 2-0 in a three-Test series is as impressive as it gets.
The opening day of the first Test at the Oval saw England comfortable at 267-3 — but the next four days belonged to the Proteas as they won by an innings and 12 runs.
While we all know what went down on the field, the documentary takes a peep at what happened behind the scenes and that is where the essence of the story lies.
There are moment of reflection, moments of joy and moments when Smith calls the players together, encouraging them, coaxing them to reach new heights and dig deep, reminding them what’s at stake and what it means to South Africa and it’s thousands of cricket fans.
Much emphasis is given to the Protea and what it stands for.
The team’s emblematic flower is described as resilient, the first flower to regenerate after burning. This lies behind the special ceremony the Proteas have the night before the start of a Test match, where they burn the Protea and stand together for the cause.
Kyle Abbott, when he made his debut against Pakistan, spoke of the impact this had on him, making him realise what he stood for, what he was representing and what was required to be worthy of wearing the Protea on his heart. It leaves people in no doubt as to the principles and values associated with being a Protea.
After the Proteas won at Lord’s by 51 runs, one of the most poignant moments is seeing Morné Morkel. Here is a feared fast bowler, sitting in his corner of the dressing room, with tears running down his cheeks. He gets hugged by Dale Steyn and he sobs on his shoulder. The meaning of what had been achieved, having his parents at the game and the history of the venue combined to stir his emotions to the limit.
The Mark Boucher incident — his career ended by a flying bail to the eye — is well documented, his drive and determination propelling fellow players to new heights, getting them to never give up despite the level of adversity.
After England came Australia and again, this time at Adelaide, the Protea rose from the parched land, conceding 482 runs on the first day, but evetually holding on for a draw.
Faf du Plessis made his debut, scoring 78 and then hanging on for more than seven hours in scoring an undefeated 110 and denying the Aussies a win. That was victory itself and emphasised the importance of the Protea once more.
It allowed the Proteas to throttle the Aussies at Perth and confirm their top spot in the game.
The documentary makes people realise that playing cricket for South Africa is not a joyride. It’s an opportunity afforded a select few and it also places undefined value on the truest and purest form of the game — Test cricket.