OPINION: Firing Myself Up for the Cricket World Cup
Today is the day we send off the national cricket team to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. In true South African spirit there's a great big event planned at Melrose Arch to 'light the #ProteaFire' and support the boys as they embark on another mission in search of the holy grail. There will be big screens and DJs to entertain the crowd, autographs will be signed and high fives dished out. We will be buoyed by a spirit of hope, of possibility and of patriotism.
The #ProteaFire campaign that has been running over the past few months seems to have done the job. The social media drive, the player interviews rolling out on television and the highlights reels playing on repeat all appear to have instilled belief.
When it was first launched in November last year, the players made it clear that this campaign was driven by them. "#ProteaFire is about humility, resilience, courage, adaptability, unity and respect; these are key attributes of our rich and diverse country. It's the wish of the Proteas that during the course of the campaign South Africans feel they have got to know the team better; that they have a better understanding of who represents them; that they are proud that these are the chosen players; and that the players are extremely proud to represent their country and people," said the official statement.
Then of course there's the team's performance on the field recently, capped off by that astonishing AB de Villiers innings at the Wanderers and Hashim Amla's beautiful form. This time really does feel different doesn't it? Hell, we can totally win this thing!
But like a broken heart who has been dumped and disappointed time and time again, I feel that I need to protect myself from another painful mauling. I can't help but feel the allure of the thrill. The high of victory is so enticing. Why not recklessly throw yourself into the romance headfirst and revel in the wonder and the glory? But our memories are short and it is so difficult to forget the heartache, the agony and the devastation of the disappointment. I have been left with commitment phobia.
Despite this, I have taken a decision to be reckless, to throw myself into this relationship fully and to accept the risks regardless. I am a devoted and passionate Proteas supporter and appreciate the technicalities and nuances of the game. I'm not going to analyse the efficiencies of our run rate or dissect the strategy of the bowling attack. I don't profess to be an expert or a sports journalist. I am not writing this as a cricket commentator, but rather as a fan. I've watched as many World Cups as my life has allowed and had the good fortune of working as a volunteer at the 2003 tournament in South Africa which basically meant I got to be on the field as an unpaid spectator at the final. There are few things I love more than watching the game.
This is about getting myself tournament ready.
I'm preparing for a long six weeks of World Cup. Emotionally, physically, psychologically… every 'ally'. The basics are easy - there's the official World Cup shirt, the Supersport subscription, the app to download. That's all fine and good. It's getting mentally fit that we need to worry about. So here's my advice as we embark on the adventure of Cricket World Cup 2015:
Don't watch any highlights of the previous World Cups. It just hurts too much and messes with your chi. You'll cry every time you see that bloody scoreboard showing '22 off 1 ball' or see Donald looking about in bewilderment. You'll probably throw a ball at the screen if you have to watch Gibbs 'dropping the World Cup' again.
Don't study the stats. Since 1992 we haven't won a knockout game. Not one. Don't even think about that.
Prepare for no sleep. The match start times are ludicrous and it is going to be exhausting. The Proteas very first game in Hamilton starts at 3am South African time on a Sunday. So you can either go big on the Saturday night and pull an all-nighter boet, or you can set the alarm clock and hit the caffeine intravenously. My strategy was to have a baby so I've pretty much weaned myself off the sleep and should cope no problem.
Pace yourself. It's a marathon not a sprint. The tournament lasts six weeks and feels like it is never going to end. There's a good four weeks of pool matches before we even get to the serious stuff. Don't eat all the biltong at once and maybe ration the screen time. Those UAE and Afghanistan games at 2am aren't essentials.
Be zen about the Aussie commentators. We all feel the same way about them.
Don't look for scapegoats if (not when) it goes bad. The #ProteaFire campaign has worked hard to change the psyche of the nation and focus on unity. But in the past we have been quick to vent our anger and blame. In '92 we blamed the rain against England, in '99 we crucified Klusener and Donald for that run out and Gibbs for that dropped catch, in '03 we hung Pollock and Duckworth and Lewis out to dry. Graeme Smith drew our collective ire in 2011. Don't look for someone to carry the misery of a nation. It's not fair.
Ignore the admin. Forget about the officials that run Cricket South Africa and the controversy that they have been mired in over the last decade. Bonus scandals, corporate governance, leadership contestations, player quotas. None of that matters now - let's concentrate on the sport.
Control that Twitter trigger finger. Just like you shouldn't post pictures of yourself naked, apply some thought before hitting 'Tweet'. It's far too easy to coach from your couch and to abuse and rant without thinking. Put down the phone, take a breath and walk away.
Delete the word 'Chokers' from your vocabulary. It cannot exist and we will never win if it lurks like a bogey on the backs of not only our team, but our supporters and our country. It is a horrible stigma that has to be escaped. Minister Razzmatazz Mbalula labeled Bafana Bafana 'a bunch of losers' and the association stuck. Labels are dangerous.
I'm off to practice sleeping, erasing tweets and stopping myself from shouting the 'C-word'. See you at the Final in Melbourne on 29 March. #ProteaFire!
Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for EWN.