Alps are molehills in SA's quest
IN 2001 Steve Waugh took the Australian cricket team to Gallipoli en route to England. It was an attempt to invoke the Anzac spirit ahead of an Ashes tour.
It was an especially poignant visit. During the First World War 9000 Australian soldiers died on Gallipoli's shores and in its rocky hills during an ill-fated attempt by Winston Churchill, then First Sea Lord, to outflank Germany by attacking its Turkish ally.
Waugh and his team attempted to recreate a famous photograph of 1915 that depicted eight Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) engaged in a pick-up game of cricket. It was spoilt by knee-high gorse that prevented a ball being bowled. But any lack of match practice in the Dardanelles didn't affect the Aussies, who went on to win the Ashes 4-1. England won the fourth test at Headingley after the series had been decided.
The Aussie triumph had more to do with having in its midst two young bowlers, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, who together took 63 of the 94 English wickets to fall in the series.
It must also have helped that six out of the top 10 run-scorers in the series were Australian.
It's unlikely that Gary Kirsten had a military memory in mind last week when he took the Proteas to that cricketing superpower Switzerland on the way to England.
There are no obviously sentimental links between South Africa and that little European enclave, apart from it being the possible repository for ill-gotten gains by a few dodgy people who looted the country in the bad old days.
Like the Aussies at Gallipoli, the South African trip of 2012 to Switzerland was a four-day "bonding" session, probably similar to what earlier touring teams achieved on the mailship to Southampton. The Proteas' visit was run by the coach's mate Mike Horn, a person described variously as an "adventurer" and "explorer".
Apart from climbing the north face of the Eiger - an activity probably outlawed by Cricket South Africa - the place offers many areas of adventure, such as its magnificent railways, a variety of chocolate tastings and a view of the escape route of the Von Trapp family.
What good it would have done the South African cricket team will only be revealed over the next 11 weeks.
Certainly the Proteas would have arrived in England to find that the Alps are mere molehills compared with the mountain they have to climb to become No1 in test cricket.
England are not only top of the tree, they might be at the zenith of English cricket, according to Rob Smyth on the Guardian's cricket blog.
He has a point. By tomorrow, if they again beat the Aussies in a one-day international, England will become the first team in history to top the ICC rankings in all three formats. They are the holders of the Ashes, are the World T20 champions (a title they defend in September) and - as Smyth reminds us - the England women are world champions.
All this is unlikely to intimidate a team that recently needed to negotiate the baggage claims and customs officials of Zurich International. With English success always comes English hubris. That is when Graeme Smith and his team might sense a weakness. At least, let's hope so.