Imagine arriving at the best restaurant in town for the ultimate gourmet experience and then refusing to eat because you weren’t happy with the position of the table. The restaurant is the same, the view and ambiance are the same and, more importantly, so is the food.
Test cricket combatants are proud of the intensity of their sport and the demands it makes on them, physically and mentally. They are bound into a brotherhood by the unique knowledge of what it takes to apply and absorb sporting pressure, in the public eye, for five days. Those who have never been there will never know, as much as we may relish the battle from the sidelines.
But, though comprehending the resilience required to compete at the highest level may be beyond the abilities of the majority of us, being asked to empathise with cricketers who don’t want to play ‘out of positionâ€ is quite different. The selection process for the third Test against Australia is fatally flawed, utterly confused and completely undeserving of our empathy.
After losing the series 2-0 with the Newlands Test still to come, the selectors may have felt the need to make changes to reflect the level of disappointment felt by so many. But they have targeted the wrong people and protected those undeserving of special attention.
Selection convener Mike Proctor is a good man, but his justification of the composition of the new squad amounted to little more than an incoherent ramble. Who and what he was trying to cover up for can only be imagined.
‘Ashwell Prince has the technique of an opening batsman,â€ Proctor said. Which is why, presumably, he has never opened the batting in his life. Good point.
‘Ashwell was mainly chosen as captain,â€ said Proctor, taking aim at one of his feet. ‘If we didn’t open with him, where could we fit him in?â€ he said, shooting the other foot for good measure.
‘We didn’t want to disrupt numbers three, four, five and six so we had no option but to put Ashwell at the top of the order,â€ he said, with no feet left to aim at.
Actually, there was a better option. Given that the selectors were prepared to view the remaining Test match as a ‘one-offâ€, why not ask three players to move up a single place in the batting order and allow Prince to bat at number five?
Hashim Amla may prefer to bat at number three, and Jacques Kallis definitely prefers number four to number three. But AB de Villiers has made no secret of his desire to bat at number four so he would have relished the opportunity.
But, instead of mildly inconveniencing two batsmen for a single Test match and allowing Imraan Khan to make his debut at the top of the order with his fellow Dolphin and friend Amla, the team has had its head cut off and will open the innings with two rookies. Just because a few people wanted to eat at their favourite table.
And anyway, the axing of Neil McKenzie and promotion of Khan serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than to appease the masses with some sacrificial blood. The next Test match isn’t for another eight months. Does Khan keep his place in the interim?
The discarding of Morné Morkel is also a decision based more on frustration than reason. Nobody has tried harder than the man his friends call ‘Big Birdâ€, but his efforts have almost certainly been frustrated by a lack of technical knowledge rather than attitude or application, and you don’t need to be a fundi to work that out.
Morkel regularly produces deliveries as dangerous as any bowler in world cricket — and they are equally regularly followed by balls that would cause dismay to the coach of an under-13 team. It’s like Tiger Woods missing the green with a sand wedge from 80 yards and then four-putting for a triple bogey following two birdies and an eagle.
There is clearly a technical problem. If your car makes a grinding noise you take it to the garage; you don’t give it to your teenage daughter to drive. Morkel, however, has been sent away to the Titans with a flea in his ear. Perhaps he will find the missing piece of the jigsaw there.
So Albie Morkel will make his Test debut in place of his younger brother and Wayne Parnell will gain ‘valuable experienceâ€ by being part of the squad and we all ask ourselves ‘where to from here?â€
The answer is ‘the imminent one-day series and the T20 World Cup in England in Juneâ€, that’s where. And during that time, open the scrap-book and photo album from the end of last year and have a look at the scorecards and images of the Test matches in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. They really happened. Don’t forget them. But it’s Australia’s turn now and they are far more deserving of our praise than the Proteas are of our scorn.
Ricky Ponting’s team has gone from being a bunch of no-hoper nobodies on the verge of a steep slide down the world rankings to a fresh-faced squad of raw talent capable of thrashing England in the Ashes in July and August.
But that does not mean the Proteas are heading in the opposite direction. Far from it.