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Luke Alfred's The Art of Losing Launched at Johannesburg Cricket Club

Luke Alfred

The Art of LosingSouth Africa has played in six Cricket World Cups since 1991 but has been knocked out in all of them. The Art of Losing by Luke Alfred addresses the painful topic of why the Proteas have never won a single knockout match at a World Cup. It asks if our cricketers are unable to think on their feet, whether it’s fair to call them “chokers” and what can be done to win at last.

Alfred chose the Johannesburg Cricket Club as the venue for the book’s launch on Tuesday evening, a beautiful club situated in Hope Village in Bertrams. The Chairman of the club, Indarin Govender, explained that the area has experienced a measure of urban decay and social ills and is in dire need of positive activity, which is where cricket can help. The Club works with primary and high schools in the area, which previously offered no cricket in their sporting curricula.

Alfred, previously a sports journalist for 18 years, working as sports editor and senior cricket writer at the Sunday Times in Johannesburg, is now a media consultant at Cricket South Africa (CSA).

He told the launch audience that the creative seed for this book was planted in a dingy hotel bedroom in Dhaka, Bangladesh during the 2011 Cricket World Cup. “There were paramilitary personnel in the lobby with automatic weapons and a very limited menu,” said Alfred. The hotel, ironically, was called The Grand.

He said that the Protea’s loss that year induced a profound sense of déjà vu. The team scored 220 runs and all seemed to be going well, but in the end they lost due to a series of schoolboy-type errors. Half of Alfred’s mind was in Colombo already, where he was to meet his wife and go on to the final in India, but this was not to be.

He came home and started thinking about this book and why South Africa has not won a World Cup knockout game. He got a publisher, Zebra Press, interested in the idea. Shortly after, he was offered a job at CSA and this book has in fact landed him in hot water with his current employer. They have not given the book their official backing and Boeta Dippenaar was actively discouraged from speaking at the launch.

However, Alfred is proud of the book and feels that it needed to be written. Pointedly, the book queries whether the problem lies with the coaching, communication issues or a lack of independent thinking among the players, the SA schooling system or a pampered professional environment.

“SA has failed to win games that matter and we seem to be our own worst enemies. The team misread the Duckworth Lewis rules in some games and have been the victims of slow overs and runouts”, said Alfred. He maintains that the book is not meant to be vindictive or nasty in any way. Failure may be an unpopular topic that people don’t want to hear about, but hopefully it will spark mature debate and thought. “There is a need for a conversation about the fine line between success and failure,” he stressed.

The book draws on interviews with the major roleplayers and behind-the-scenes officials and recreates the drama of these matches. Interestingly, Alfred said that no one who was approached refused to be interviewed for the book and many of the players expressed relief at being able to express their feelings on the issue.

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