A-team cricket gets A+ for importance
A colleague of mine made a statement not too long ago that got me thinking. It was in connection with the heaps of runs made and many wickets taken by some of the players in South Africa’s second-string team in their four-day matches against Sri Lanka A. In answer to whether the Proteas understudies were just too strong for their sub-continental counterparts was the phrase “they can all play when the badge says SA A”.
There are many ways in which that statement could be interpreted which would not necessarily be incorrect but in this particular case it was meant to highlight the vast difference in pressure between that level and the highest level, when the crest of one’s shirt has the Protea and South Africa on it.
Whilst some can comfortably handle the going and exhibit their talent at just about all levels below the ultimate stage of test cricket, others seem to freeze when they get into the spotlight and don’t do enough to realise their potential or even cement a place in the side. The factors that influence the situation are from the pressures of “the badge”.
When you play for your national team, there is a history that you are made aware of (if you don't already know about it) and there is absolutely no getting away from all that has gone before, no matter how hard you may try to. It is very much a case of having to embrace it and become part of that legacy because everyone who comes and goes just does.
Standards that have been set need to be upheld or bettered, and all players who get selected try their damndest first of all to show that they belong in national colours, and then to do justice to their talent. The hard work really does start after one joins the best players of the country; it is then that the good performances need to be produced as this is the stage on which one will be judged.
It would be wrong to say that the level below is unimportant, because it’s imperative that players graduate from each stage and move along through the different levels proving their worth, as this will help to better develop their skills and increase their confidence. What the South African A side provides for many players who show potential at domestic level, is the closest simulation that can be achieved for what can be expected at test level. It serves also to reduce the gap between the franchise level and test level.
The way I see it, the critical issue is to make sure that the right youngsters are picked and given the opportunity to learn at that level. Time needs to be invested in those young cricketers as it is through spending time playing the game at a decent level that the ones who really can play will learn valuable lessons.
It is so difficult to tell who can and can’t play, so results are nearly always the only way to try and separate all comers. As heavy as “the badge” may be, the weight of it is lighter and easier to bear if one has somewhat conquered the A-side level. I do hope that a lot more A side cricket is played. It is useful and needed.