South African cricket: Totally allergic to silverware

Another major international ICC tournament. Another consolatory competitor’s ribbon for South Africa.

This is a cricketing powerhouse with a serious allergy to trophies. Their superstar individuals continually prove that their collective DNA is spoiled by badly timed success repellent.

Barring a few catastrophic outings, their campaigns seem to always follow a similar pathway.

Start in the top bracket of favourites thanks to loads of pre-event consistency, belligerently cremate all-comers in the early rounds and build an unbeatable aura before cratering in grandiose fashion when the finish line is in sight.

Last night in London, like day turns to night, the trend continued.

"If we remain tight as a group and work hard, we can surely avoid the final."

“If we remain tight as a group and work hard, we can surely avoid the final.”

This time around the exit was at their preferred semi-final stage, a comfortable 7 wicket trouncing from the English being the door slapping their behinds as they departed the Champions Trophy.

In fairness to the Proteas, they were down a block of star power and their campaign will be remembered as a spluttering affair overall, but at the end of the day, it was another asphyxiation at a competition’s pointy-end.

Even coach Gary Kirsten admitted bluntly in the aftermath: “I think we did choke again today.”

South Africa’s record in shorter form tournaments makes them the pre-2011 All Blacks of limited overs cricket.

Besides snagging the 1998 Champions Trophy title in its early knockout format, they have gone silverware-hungry ever since, and sometimes in cruel and calamitous fashion.

How’s this for a bitter wrap sheet?

In the 16 major ICC tournaments since 1992 (6 World Cups, 6 Champions Trophies and 4 World T20s ), the Proteas have fallen short in the following ways:

– Only once made a final (winning the 98 CT)
– Lost at the semi final stage 7 times
– Topped their pool in the group stage 5 times before losing a knockout final
– Gone undefeated through the group stages 3 times before losing a knockout final
– Eliminated twice in the group stage at a home tournament

From this melange of implosion, there’s been some unforgettable dip-outs. The run-rate fleecing of 1992 and panicked freeze of 1999 in World Cup semi-finals are two of the more famous cold-blooded farewells, both of which have become folklore in their own rights.

However, to celebrate another campaign of heartbreak, I’ve chosen a couple of lesser lights in the Protea catalogue of stuff-ups, mainly to celebrate their unshakable consistency and to also make myself feel better about Australia’s current predicament.

1996 World Cup

On the back of Kirsten’s batting heroics, South Africa surged through the pool stage undefeated with 5 comfortable victories on the trot before losing to the West Indies in a quarter-finals boilover.

2003 World Cup

Under pressure at home, the Proteas endured a stop-start pool stage which saw them requiring a win against Sri Lanka in the final match to advance. In a rain-affected affair, the hosts managed to botch their chase with an unbelievable mathematical faux pas before the rain set in, leaving a tied result and another bizarre exit.

2009 World T20 Championship

Waltzed through the group stages with 5 consecutive wins of considerable size which was evidenced in their whopping +3.275 net run rate. Looked unbackable to complete the task until their first sighting of sudden-death, where they folded to Pakistan in the semi-final.

2011 World Cup

Finished the group stages with an imposing 5-1 record, placing them neck-and-neck with hosts India for title favouritism. Dreams of a drought-breaking victory were replaced by normal transmission in the quarter-finals when they sensationally collapsed to be all out for 172 chasing New Zealand’s 8/221.

 

Rebel Raiders: victims of a poisonous culture

After another episode of num-nutted naughtiness, the flavour of empathy tastes of nothing but lime splice. The majority of the rugby league community feel really sorry for the Canberra Raiders footy club.

After a period of being disrespectfully whipped by a couple of Gen Y bad eggs, the public has flooded forums and airwaves with half-arsed compassion for the club and their frustrated diehards.

Ferguson: moments after shotgunning some Verve.

Ferguson: moments after shotgunning some Verve.

“Poor Canberra. Sacking rebellious players who go and perform elsewhere. Showing them patience and they make a beeline for Northies. Totally unfair. Sad emoticon.”

Yep, despair for their battler brand is trending after being rag-dolled by the self-absorbed recklessness of youth and their love of a binge quaff, but what about flipping the issue and seeing it through the rooftop beer goggles of the rabble-rousers?

Hasn’t anybody considered that these young fellows could simply be the unwilling products of an evil working environment? That their developmental years have been polluted by the mismanagement of their paymasters?

Wake up, citizens of footy. This string of boneheaded incidents coming out of the ACT is the hideous side effects of being incarcerated inside one of rugby league’s most poisonous environments.

The Canberra Raiders footy program is clearly a hothouse of chaos that produces bad weeds by the tonne, and the operation is driven wholly and solely by the miscreants of a lackadaisical administration.

In their messy management style, the players are simply pawns. Marionettes. Victims.

Those on-field have been made to foot the blame for clownish governance for so long, but if you scratch deeper than the surface, and you will see that all of the vile back page headlines can be attributed to a sloppy front office.

Firstly, Todd Carney. A cannon where the chieftains were the flame to the wick.

Furner: clearly has no idea and this facial expression proves it.

Furner: clearly has no idea and this facial expression proves it.

Which overpaid suit forgot to brief him on the social rules of personal relief, most notably that a human being can’t double as a trough? Who forgot to stop him setting his mate’s arse on fire? Was he not sufficiently educated on the offensive smell of burning hair? Who didn’t teach him how to read a speed limit sign?

Then innocent lower-grader Steve Irwin was left high and dry by flimsy disciplinary guidelines.

Why was he not warned about the perils of Carney’s loose company? Should he not have been chaperoned at the very least?

Josh Dugan was a Raider legend in the making, until some administrative simpleton made the rookie error of forgetting to collect him for a rehab session.

Where was the initiative to offer the compromise of bringing the team to his rooftop for a good stretch of the calves?

Then the ball was dropped when it was time to control his opinion. Who didn’t have the foresight to make him aware that social media reaches an audience wider than his personal circle? Did someone tell him that cuss words are frowned upon? And who didn’t stop him hitting ‘send’ on his blue Instagram rant?

Then Blake Ferguson, who was left totally stranded by his superiors.

What irresponsible executive stood by and allowed him to stumble the mean streets of Cronulla while necking bubbly straight from the container? Who considers it good business acumen to allow him to play the role of a 1985 disco greaseball?

And where was the guiding hand of the bossdogs when he was subsequently taken under the wing of Anthony Mundine?

All of these career-staining situations of embarrassment occurred thanks to gross incompetence by the club hierarchy.

Throughout all the duration of this circus, they have stood to the side, recklessly idle while young footballers made minor life decisions on their own, totally at the mercy of their own decision-making processes.

It’s a disgrace.

Forget about plonking Ferguson in front on the NRL Integrity Unit. It’s time for the Furner axis and their band of lobotomised boardroom parrots to take their medicine, face the music and take it on the chin. Their careless approach to running a football club and the total disdain for the welfare of their employees deserves a triple hit of idioms inside one sentence.

They are the common thread amongst the vile series of misdemeanours that come from Raider Land.

Forget the brand; it’s time to spare a shoulder for the poor players at Canberra who operate under the duress of this madness.

They don’t know what they’re doing, and it’s not their fault.

EXCLUSIVE: Cooper Cronk’s Origin camp diary

Cooper Cronk is usually a padlocked clam when it comes to media exposure, but this week he gave us an insight in to how his finely-programmed computer brain operates when it comes to kicking critical field goals in the popular games of footy and life.

Now in a Stand Spray and Deliver exclusive, his cut-price firewall has given us exclusive backstage access to the days leading in to the first State of Origin match of 2013.

Here are the ramblings from the mind of a truly unique footballer who doesn’t follow his own shadow, or change the password on his online diary often enough.

Sunday

Return to camp after a lazy weekend of Cooper time. I really unwound by putting my feet up. Right up.

Spent my time at a high altitude facility on Mt Kosciuszko subjecting myself to a voluntary training program of torturous intensity, and am now feeling recharged and totally ready to sink my teeth in to a week of preparation and answering questions about Ben Te’o.

After a light ball-work session in the afternoon, it’s time to unwind with the boys by heading to the hotel function room to watch a movie together.

Even 12 months after my wonderful 41-metre field goal, I am still completely free of my own expectation, and Sam

Cooper ponders. Where can I get some petula oil?

Cooper ponders. Where can I get some petula oil?

Thaiday’s for that matter. This is lucky for him as his choice of ‘Short Circuit 2’ for the evening’s viewing was an absolute disaster that deserved serious condemnation.

With each cheesy android gag, I felt my body extend in to it’s natural form- a clenched thumping fist and a lower leg twitching to roundhouse- but luckily my emotive mastery kicked in before his arse was.

Pooped after two hours of listening to Trevor Gillmeister talk about mechanical science, I retire to bed to rest my chakras, ready for a big day tomorrow of studying the opposition with our coach Michael Hagan.

Monday

Breakfast time, and this means one thing: a smorgasbord of the finest tropical fruit knocked up by Mal. He’s great at putting on a vitamin-laden spread, which is handy because I’m not actually sure what else he does in camp all week.

Unfortunately, in a desperate attempt to prove his self-worth, he’s also had a crack at knocking up a mixed grill and succeeded in producing nothing but a hotplate of smouldering char.

As a chef, Mal should really stick to…. whatever it is he does professionally. We might need to give him a different job next year, because the small fire he’s sparked in the village today proves his character on the Weber is made of hay.

After a session of opposition analysis where we decided on the best way to bait Greg Bird, it’s time for a gym session. Like most days, I’m feeling in good rhythm as I settle in to my routine. I’m throwing iron around like it’s going out of fashion, and my head is clear and totally devoid of noise. Until Darius Boyd wants to spot me.

Fair dinkum, for someone with a voicebox that ices over at the sight of a camera, he sure can bang on. Wayne this, Wayne that, he has a bottomless keg of fatherly anecdotes on tap.

He eventually shuts up after I give him a good belting over the head with my copy of ‘The Wisdom of Forgiveness’, and I get back to doing what I do best: nurturing my sinews.

Mal heads off to do a knock’n’run at Ricky Stuart’s house, so he gives us the afternoon to ourselves. While most of the other blokes spend the time swapping Tazos, I slip in to a saffron robe and read my book about transpersonal psychology. The guy who wrote it is wonderfully intelligent, insightful and inspiring, much like Craig Bellamy, except with the ability to repress violent outbursts of fury.

Although the book contains fairly complex and challenging subject matter, it’s not a patch on one of Coach Hagan’s detailed fifth tackle plays. Trying to get one of those chaotic formulas to synchronise is like trying to pronounce Matt Gillett’s name properly.

In one particular entanglement, Corey Parker hit a decoy line at good pace and ended up on his keister in the third row of the stands. I think Hages is getting ahead of himself; maybe he should give the failed grill-master a turn with the whistle?

With Mal still searching for enough dog poop to fill a bag for Ricky’s porch, he decides to give us the night off, so I head off to the casino with Billy Slater and David Shillington for a quiet night of coin burning. I managed to win $25k on blackjack, $10k on roulette and on the way out, score the lucky door prize that was a new Toyota and a holiday to Europe. I didn’t feel good or bad about myself afterwards, just in a state of grace.

Tuesday

After a session of stretching, I’m encouraged by the coaching staff to chat to the team about the daily routines that assist with the upkeep of my outstanding spiritual health. Naturally, in a habitat dominated by masculine beefcakery, I only gain cagey interest from a couple of fellow trippers in Justin Hodges and Brent Tate.

After we all woof down enough carbohydrates to feed a small continent, the three of us return to my room to meditate. Cameron Smith tries to join in, but as the process involves the burning of incense, he is banned entry to the room due to the highly dangerous levels of combustible man-shrubbery he carries on his torso.

All goes well with the enlightenment until Hodgo begins showing the side effects of excess carbs intake.

In an instant, the silence and purity in the room is pierced as evil spirits escape his body. It was a sequence I felt strangely like I had imagined in my head already, months if not years before.

Actually, I didn’t imagine it- Hodgo farts all the time.

After some sprints, it’s off to do some kicking training with that scallywag Daly Cherry-Evans. Working with the young fella is grouse. His bubbly persona is great company to be in.

I often wonder though, as the bloke is so bloody cheery all the time, perhaps ‘practising a kick on the same patch of grass’ might mean something totally different to him?

Either way, he smokes his first ten attempts at field goal, and we retire to listen to some Enya. It’s game day tomorrow and I can’t think of any better way to focus on the job at hand: than with a calming dose of synth and panpipes.

Warming the Pine

Sport for those with comfortable couches.