As much as there is humiliation in taking a comprehensive beating on the cricket field, there can be a joyous and spirit-lifting nobility in failure.
The ICC Champions Trophy, which winds up with the final between Pakistan and India at The Oval tomorrow, graphically illustrated this subtle distinction over the past week.
The ignominy of the Proteas’ departure from the global game’s top-eight competition represented not just South Africa’s deserved reputation as the chocolate soldiers who melt as soon as the heat is turned up in a long and embarrassing string of world tournaments, but also a growing realisation that we are probably stuck in a mental rut of agonising self-flagellation.
The South African team came to the starting line as one of the resounding favourites to burst out of the trough of despond and reaffirm the flagging faith of cricket fans. The Proteas were ranked the top one-day side in the world, had the shortened version of the game’s top-ranked batsman in AB de Villiers and the correspondingly ranked bowler in Kagiso Rabada.
But after world No 2 Hashim Amla’s century turbo-boosting a 96-run win in the opening match against Sri Lanka at The Oval, and consecutive losses to Pakistan at Edgbaston – admittedly on the Duckworth/Lewis system – India drove the lance of mortification deep into the Proteas side, taking just 44.3 overs in a collapse from 116/2 to 191 all out to roll the South Africans out, knocking off the runs for an eight-wicket victory in just 38 overs.
Contrast this to the joyous reaction of the Bangladeshi crowds as the nation, long the whipping boys of world cricket, took on Virat Kohli’s disciplined Indian side in the semifinal at Edgbaston.
Bangladesh, who only gained Test status in 2000, refused to acknowledge that they were on the wrong end of a beating and the sheer joy of the moment rolled off the stands in Birmingham like a wave of positivity.
History will show that India brushed aside the Bangladeshi challenge, trotting regally into the final on a superb 123 not out Rohit Sharma innings for a nine-wicket win … but it cannot bring back the sheer joy of the moment.
Of such marked reactions to failure lie the enigmatic mystery and majesty of the game of cricket.