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Amla, Federer and the impostors

They say a week is a long time in politics. And in test cricket it can also seem like an age.

The doom and gloom merchants were forced into a dizzying 180 degree about-turn in the space of seven days between London and Nottingham. From heaping scathing scorn on South Africa at Lord’s, the vitriol is now aimed at feeble England and their neophyte leader Joe Root.

How can one team go from ignoble defeat to glorious victory, and vice versa, in seven days? After the Lord’s capitulation, the familiar, lazy rumblings about transformation, quotas and targets predictably did the rounds regarding the Proteas. After the Trent Bridge slaughter, no such issues were raised. Why the turnaround though?

The return of Faf du Plessis’ granite-jawed leadership undoubtedly helped. As did the X-factor abilities of someone like Chris Morris. Also brave cricket from the decision to bat at the toss, to the decision to forego the extra batsman for a bowling all-rounder. Throw in steely batting, fantastic seam bowling and great support from a fledgling spinner, and it equals a recipe for success.

All without marquee names Like Rabada, De Villiers and Steyn.

It shows how much the right mental approach can influence the outcome of sport at the highest level. And as the media poke into corners, rummages through bins and digs through troughs to try unearth the whys and wherefores of such swift changes in outcome, it might be worth looking at just one individual’s approach to the game for a glimpse of why he has succeeded for so long at the highest level.

During an interview midway through the Trent Bridge test with Hashim Amla gave an understated, yet pointed reminder of why, for the sake of sanity, one needs to take the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ with a pinch of salt.

Amla explained, in his characteristically unruffled fashion, how he never got carried away by the white noise outside his bubble. He didn’t pay attention to the praise, and also never gave much heed to the criticism. “You’re never as good, or as bad, as they say you are” was the meat of his argument.

In a couple of simple sentences the secret of the mighty Hash’s success was laid bare. Keep an even mental keel, and you have a better than even shot at winning. Talent can take you far. But it’s how you harness that talent and manage the inevitable rollercoaster of ups and downs that determines success.

A few miles south west of Lord’s, the famous entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon is adorned with a Rudyard Kipling quote from his epic poem “If”.

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat these two impostors just the same.”

Which pretty much sums up Hashim Amla’s attitude to sport, and to life. And also sums up the philosophy of the man who walked through that famed Wimbledon entrance on Sunday and walked back through it 100 minutes later with a record eighth men’s singles title.

Roger Federer, like Amla, is the epitome of sporting grace. Humble in victory, gracious in defeat. The man barely seems to sweat no matter what the duration or circumstance of his tennis matches. He never looks stressed. His physical form is an outer manifestation of his mental processes that have been hugely instrumental in his unprecedented 19 Grand Slams.

Hashim Amla and Roger Federer. You could scour the sporting firmament for many a year before finding finer role models for all that is good about sport.

And it’s their minds that matter most.

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