As the year draws to a close, I reflect on beginnings – because to witness the beginnings of greatness is a wonderful thing.
Beginnings. They are important in all kinds of ways, not least because of the hope and promise that accompany them.
One of the most exciting things in sport (and life more generally) is to witness the arrival of a bright new talent. Someone you know—just know—is going to achieve great things.
Ryan Ruffels—at age 16—has arrived on the golf scene with ability and intent that suggests we are witnessing the start of a wonderful career. His simple optimism and pleasant manner tells us as well that we are going to enjoy the ride.
Ryan comes from a respected sporting heritage but, unlike most commentators, I will refrain from mentioning his parentage. They are good people and have every reason to be very proud of their son and will know better than most that he is travelling a tough road and needs to build his own identity – be his own man. Whilst it is clear that Ryan will enjoy many successes, the competition gets tougher by the year. Jordan Spieth dominated the Australian Open and is just 21. Meantime, Tiger Wood’s comeback becomes more and more problematic as he confronts fields of greater depth and quality than at any time in his career, at the same time as his body and swing start to second guess themselves. But we will never forget his beginnings either. Or many others.
Allan Border’s debut. His brisk, confident, business-like walk to the crease; cap firmly in place, a man at one with his environment. Or the first time I saw Greg Chappell, Wally Lewis, Allan Langer and Karrie Webb. You will have your own rich memories.
It was true, as well, of Phillip Hughes. An exceptional, natural athlete with a childlike, undiluted passion for (and love of ) the game he played. A lot has been said and written after his tragic death – much of it profoundly moving in capturing the sense of loss. Perhaps one of the reasons it hit so hard and hurt so badly was the notion of such youth and talent cut short – the symphony not complete. But then, not all great books run to 500 pages. Nor do the best speeches need to be long – Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is remembered always and lasts but 272 words.
Just one other observation on something we take too easily for granted – the skill of those who thrill us also disguises the dangers of what they do. TV plays an unwitting role in all of this. The quality and quantity of sports coverage is magnificent but in a way, creates a false reality. Watch the races on TV and you get no real sense of the speed at which the horses travel or the talent of the jockeys involved.
Viewing the cricket from the lounge room gives no guide to how fast the ball travels. Less than a second to see the ball, decide whether to play or not and then hit or leave it. Miraculous. Go to the ground and there’s the wicketkeeper 25 metres back and you hardly see the ball in flight. And so it is with all sport. The reality is different: bigger, faster, three dimensional, better.
In an ever-changing and often artificial world sport reminds us on a regular basis of the purity of effort, the triumph of endeavour and the courage of those who, knowing the dangers, press on regardless.
As Christmas approaches my thanks for reading these jottings and my best wishes for the New Year.
Beginnings – fresh with hope.