A mad, bad, dangerous-to-know 2018, but mostly meh
Barring Banyana Banyana's performance, SA delivered an underwhelming year on the soccer and rugby fronts
A football team who went one win short of glory. A cricket team who went toe to toe with the game’s biggest egos. A rugby team who went nowhere.
Sport in SA had a two-out-of-three kind of 2018 at a macro level: Mzansi not really for sure, né. What is for sure is that Bafana Bafana deserve to be disbanded forever.
Please, South Africans, stop pretending that what is laughably called the men’s national football team are anything except an unfunny joke. They will finish the year in joint 72nd place in the rankings, up from the 78th they were at the start of 2018. But down from the 60th they were last year. They haven’t seen the inside of the top 50 since 2010.
Who else have rolled up at No 72 here at the arse-end of 2018? Cape Verde, which has a population more than 100 times smaller than SA’s, which has exponentially less money to spend on football, which is slowly sinking into an unremarkable splodge of the Atlantic. Bafana didn’t lose any of the seven games they played this year but that’s as good as it gets. Their only wins were in an irrelevant friendly against Zambia and over the Seychelles in an Afcon qualifier, which is not unlike running rings around a granny and her cat: Zambia are 83rd, the Seychelles 189th.
Stop blaming Stuart Baxter. Or Danny Jordaan. Or the other suits and tracksuits. Or the SABC. The truth is that SA men are capable of adding great value to teams in other countries, but put 11 of them together on the same field and ask them to beat 11 blokes from somewhere else and they are rubbish.
South Africans care more about Chiefs or Pirates or Swallows or Patrice Motsepe’s pet project than they do about a team who need to host a tournament before they can be confident of even playing in it. So let’s be honest about why the World Cup excites us: Because the proper sides are playing. Not ours. Having to put up with Bafana at the World Cup is like finding your father in a hip bar – a reason to not be cheerful.
Banyana Banyana don’t come with that crippling baggage. Not only because they went all the way to penalties in the Afcon final against Nigeria, not only because they have indeed earned the right to go to the World Cup in France next year, not only because they are in the top 50 (only just at No 48) – but also because they play football as it was meant to be played. Along with all the skill and talent they bring to the pitch, they burn with an irresistible gees. Joy pervades their performances. They are worth watching win, lose or draw. It helps that women’s football isn’t yet the domain of obscenely overpaid marketing executives in shorts and boots, which is what the best male players have become.
And while it is scandalous that women don’t earn the same amounts – capitalism, that’s on you – there is little doubt that once they do they will be as inhibited and predictable as the men. So enjoy women’s football before that happens.
In particular, marvel at the magic of Thembi Kgatlana. She’s 50kg light, 1.56m short, 22 years young, wears the No 11 jersey for both Banyana and the Houston Dash, and lights up the game like a human-powered laser. Kgatlana was the MVP at last year’s Cosafa Cup, the 2018 Cyprus Cup, and at Afcon, where she was also the top scorer with five goals. She is that good, and she will be for years yet.
The glory ... and the drama
The core of SA’s cricket team no longer have youth in their kitbags, but that’s a good thing when their opponents are teams like India and Australia. Two more self-regarding sides would be hard to find, and anyone who isn’t Indian or Australian is no doubt thankful that Faf du Plessis’s okes put them in their place in Test series this year. But not without drama.
A self-destructing pitch at the Wanderers almost derailed the match against India, whose captain, Virat Kohli, constantly seemed on the edge of implosion.
You couldn’t blow your nose without causing a small war while the Aussies were around. From squabbles in the stairwell at Kingsmead, to savages in the crowd at St George’s Park, to ball-tampering at Newlands, to AB de Villiers and Morné Morkel retiring against a neutered Australian team at the Wanderers, this series had it all. And more in the shape of some decent cricket.
Aiden Markram scored two centuries and there were one each for De Villiers, Dean Elgar, Du Plessis and Cameron Bancroft. Kagiso Rabada survived his shoulder charge on Steve Smith in Port Elizabeth to lead the series with 23 wickets at an average of 19.26. SA won 18 of their 33 matches across the formats and lost the other 15. What the hell: As long as they beat the Indians and the Aussies, who cares?
Two steps Bok-ward
That’s more than we can say for the Springboks, except for a shining day in Wellington when they claimed their first win over the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009.
Aphiwe Dyantyi scored two tries that day, and lit up most of the other moments he was on the field in 2018 as SA’s most watchable player. The Boks won half of their 14 games in 2018; not nearly good enough for team who have twice won the World Cup. Neither will it escape notice that they conceded only two fewer points than they scored this year. Too often they played like a team trying, and failing, to remember how good they used to be.
For every step they took forward – and Rassie Erasmus engineered a good few – there were two-and-a-half backward.
How to sum up big sport in SA in 2018? Meh.