“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
The second Test of a two match series between South Africa and India begun earlier today. It may provide the home side with a chance of redemption.
The first Test played in Johannesburg carried more than the usual hopes and expectations. It was the first to be held on home soil following the death of President Mandela.
It might have been billed, The Mandela Test. And so it proved, but not in the expected sense of being cricket’s opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for the life of a special human being and the extraordinary model for all sportsmen and women.
Just before tea on Day 4, India lost their last second innings wicket with their score at 421, setting the home side the monumental and never yet obtained total of 458 to win; a sporting prize to grace all the memories.
Like villagers performing some time honoured hunting dance, South Africa went about their task with the rhythm of the ritualized chase and the easy energy of the ecstatic. But it was an arduous as well as thrilling pursuit in which mishap was a constant reminder of human frailty.
By the last session of the final day, with the twilight and diminution of the remaining overs adding to the pressure of a chase through unexplored country, the last two recognized batsmen, the centurions du Plessis and de Villiers, stumbled each in turn and left the ceremonial field to Philander and Steyn, fitting symbols of their country’s transformation, to dance out the choreography of win, lose, draw and tie.
And so it was that the beating drums brought the participants, on field and off, to the Mandela Test.
Sixteen balls remaining and sixteen runs required to achieve the great victory or to lose in the spirit of adventure and hope, or to tie in the rare issue of equality or to draw hazarding all.
Team South Africa flunked the Test and played out a uncourageous draw. Just two lusty free flowing arm-swings short of their quarry.
Neither were the captain, the coach, the players alone to blame. Administrators, sponsors, media and fans exert their outmoded influences. Here again we meet the dominating constitution-preserving force of culture.
This fear of losing that persists particularly among sports people here, is a hangover from old South Africa where whites tried for years in vain to hang on to their treasurer.
It is Man’s common evolutionary inheritance, the fear of the future. Yet, deep below the surface where ego fears annihilation there is also to be found the power of self-sacrifice and the well spring of compassion – there to be unearthed by those who can know fear and triumph over it.
Nor is this hunt for such courage and hope the task of any one country. It is a global quest.
We are fortunate to know how Mandela would have guided us and why:
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
We are fortunate. Tomorrow we meet a further chance of redemption. A Mandela Test, however met, is itself a prize.