Let's face it: SA are under pressure!

14 February 2015 - 17:14 By Telford Vice

Fikile Mbalula has been reading too much Jack Kerouac. Or Tom Wolfe is on his bedside table these days. One of them has to be responsible for the stream of consciousness our Minister of Funny Talks spewed in his farewell to SA's World Cup squad this week.

Even by his notorious standards of projectile verbosity, Mbalula was in rare form as he lurched from "bliksem" to "moer" to "losers" to several digs at Shakes Mashaba.

Then came stuff like this: "Sport is not a useless business. We call it the RDP of the soul - reconstruction and development programme of the soul. Please win it for us. South Africans are accustomed to winning because we are the children of warriors. Nelson Mandela. Kepler Wessels."

And this: "You are not going to be playing with robots, you are playing with people. You are the special ones. You are the chosen ones. It does not mean you are irreplaceable but all of you are capable of doing the duty for us."

But wait. There was more: "Forget about 1992. Forget about what happened in Bangladesh, when Allan Donald and Lance Klusener could not get us over the line. To AB and your bunch of winners, you are not playing against cows. You are not playing against donkeys."

Behind Mbalula on the stage from whence he let loose this verbiage on the crowd stood the SA squad. As each nonsense was added to the steaming pile their faces morphed further into incredulity. Impressively, they did not fall over in fits of laughter. They just stood there, gobsmacked and looking like teenagers at a wedding trying not to be overwhelmed by the embarrassment caused by a mad uncle with a few too many drinks down his throat dancing the funky chicken.

Safely out of range of Mbalula's dangerously flailing left elbow, his deputy, Gert Oosthuizen, lurked without intent like some bloodless, benign blob and smiled sleepily on the scene. Cut the man some slack: he has heard it all before and he will hear it again. Poor man!

Or perhaps we are selling the minister short. Maybe he is not the joke he seems to be. What are the chances that, by mangling facts like where Donald and Klusener tangoed themselves into a terminal tangle, chucking in what would appear to be sidelong references to Animal Farm and Robocop, and confusing all who heard him until their faces ached with fake grins, Mbalula was trying to exorcise the ghosts of SA's World Cups past?

Who, after all, could think seriously about some of the silliness SA have got up to over the years with all that going on?

Mbalula's pyrotechnic pronouncements made the Donald-Klusener debacle seem like a minor misunderstanding. That soggy, unreadable Duckworth-Lewis sheet at Kingsmead in 2003? Nothing more nasty than a blank page, surely. Allowing New Zealand's Black Caps to become the big, bad Men in the Black Hats in 2011? Only good manners, of course.

For the players, the suspension of disbelief required to get through Mbalula's speech with their sense of reality intact could have cushioned the memory of SA's multiple meltdowns at the World Cup. Perhaps it wasn't so bad after all. Maybe losing or tying when they should have won was just cricket's way of keeping their feet on the ground.

Like bloody hell. There is no escaping the throbbing truth that SA are under as much pressure as always to win. They are, as Kerouac wrote, "On the Road". But do they have what Wolfe called "The Right Stuff"?

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