In justifying his statement that “old age realises the dreams of youth”, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard used Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, who later in life became the dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, as an example. “Just look at dean Swift,” the philosopher continued, “in his youth he built an asylum for the insane, in his old age he was himself an inmate.”
Kierkegaard is widely considered the father of Western existentialism, whose views on the individual have, through the ages, drastically shaped the way we perceive ourselves in the world today.
But let me set your mind at ease in case you’re worried this column might be a yawn-fest of Kierkegaardian proportions.
Rather, it seems, the philosopher’s statement has tremendous bearing on what we witnessed over the past week or so, as the South African test team opened the new season with a series victory against New Zealand.
Admittedly, over the past few months, during the cricketing dry spell that comprises forgettable T20 tournaments and random one-dayers, I have found myself advocating strongly for the Proteas to ditch the old guard, as it were, to make space available for a crop of emerging young talent.
My usual fodder in this regard was the ageing Proteas pacemen, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, in light of Kagiso Rabada’s brilliance.
Why reserve spots for two bowlers who, when in their prime, served their country well but have since reached their sell-by dates, I asked on numerous occasions.
As it turns out, though, I’ve had to eat humble pie as Steyn and Philander showed us exactly why, if fit, their spaces in the test team are non-negotiable. Although the first of the two tests in the series turned out to be a washout at Kingsmead, in the limited period the Proteas had to bowl to the Black Caps, Steyn was involved in the last bit of action, picking up two early wickets before the heavens opened up.
Then, in the most recent test, the Polokwane Express showed his naysayers exactly what he’s in the business of – swinging the ball at a consistent pace, placing it at the right lengths along proper lines and picking up wickets. He ended that match with an impressive 8/99, with a five-fer in the second innings, to demolish New Zealand and contribute to his team’s massive 204-run victory on day four.
And if bowling consistency was the order of the day in the Proteas’ emphatic victory, then Big Vern was no mug with the ball either.
Remember, Philander had not played in the national test team for an entire season due to an ankle injury. But on his return, the veteran bowler showed us just how test bowling should be done, dropping them consistently with pinpoint accuracy and precise timing to asphyxiate the New Zealand batting line-up. His figures, although not quite cleaning up in the wickets department, were as impressive as Steyn’s, going at an average of just 2.64 runs per over with four wickets in total.
If anything, Steyn and Philander’s performances were a classic display of test bowling being very much a team sport, where bowling as a unit yields the most devastating results.
And this, of course, could only have been accomplished with the right mix of age and experience, and youth and zeal, as Rabada, no doubt feeling secure with the support of two seasoned campaigners by his side, also chipped in with a valuable contribution of 5/116 in the two innings.
So if we apply Kierkegaard’s statement to the issue of age in the Proteas setup, we’ll find that Steyn and Philander’s relative “old age” has, indeed, realised their youthful dreams of dominance, which by and large is manifested physically at present in Rabada.
In a sense, it would seem as if the South African bowlers, fortunately unlike Swift, are fast approaching the peaceful asylum afforded by unity. Let’s hope this fierce and experienced Proteas bowling unit has what it takes to restore their team’s pride this season.
@Longbottom_69 is an armchair cricket critic. He’s realised many dreams of youth in old age. Being a fast bowler is not one of them