South Africa Journal: Throwing away a Win

South Africans are up in arms about their national cricket team’s decision, with victory within reach, to accept a draw with the visiting Indian squad rather than risk a loss, which would have put the two-match series out of reach. The South Africans had already broken the record for most runs in a fourth inning (out of four: each side only bats for two, with ten outs in each, over a five-day “test” match) when they stopped, eight runs short.

The home crowd in Johannesburg booed their team–and you can hardly blame them. The South African team may have chosen the strategically prudent course. But they were close enough to take the risk of losing the final three outs. And the fans wanted a win, badly. Chasing victory at all costs is “not quite cricket”–the ritual of the game often seems more important than the outcome–but the players are still expected to do their best.

It is tempting to wonder if there is something of the national character in the South Africans’ decision to stop short–a tendency to settle for less rather than go for the best, in the hope that things will work out in the end. Americans prefer more ambitious efforts, both in politics and in sports. The failures are worse (see the Iraq War and Obamacare), but the victories (see the Cold War and the moon landing) are that much sweeter.