The awe and wonder that used to bedazzle, confuse and distract South African cricketers on tour in India has gradually disappeared in the near quarter of a century since Clive Rice led the historic first one in November 1991.
Rice said after the bus journey from Calcutta airport into the city that he understood what Neil Armstrong must have felt like when he first stepped on the moon. It really was that alien to the players, even to a man with Rice’s 40 years of life experience.
But it was a flying visit, in and out in less than 10 days. Full of extraordinary scenes and experiences but, as Andrew Hudson recalls, “… all a bit of a blur. When we arrived home we wondered whether it had actually happened. There wasn’t time for anything to really sink in.”
Not so this time, at least not for the management team and the elite players who feature in all three squads: AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir and Kagiso Rabada. They will be in India for 72 days. Morné Morkel will miss only the first week while the three T20s are being played before joining up for the five-match ODI series and the four Test matches.
As exciting as the prospect is for players and fans, the most important aspect of the tour is what it heralds over the next eight years: more than a billion rand in income for Cricket South Africa (CSA), which will place the game in its healthiest state ever, and a thawing of the icy relationship between CSA and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)that infamously cost CSA more than R200-million when India’s last scheduled tour here was cut from 12 matches to just five.
Changing the face of cricket
CSA won’t make a cent this time, but a memorandum of understanding for two reciprocal tours before 2023 will change the face of cricket in this country. The rapidly changing economic landscape and fluctuating currency notwithstanding, both tours will be worth in excess of R500-million in television rights’ revenue alone.
Former BCCI president Naraya-naswami Srinivasan’s hostility towards CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat threatened to cost millions more in lost revenue but, remarkably, Lorgat managed to turn the relationship around before Srinivasan’s forced removal by the Indian high court and succession by veteran administrator Jagmohan Dalmiya.
A heart attack ended Dalmiya’s life earlier this week but not before he applied his signature and endorsed a Test series to be played later this year for the Mahatma Gandhi–Nelson Mandela Freedom Trophy.
Much may change on the field during the next five months, too. England arrive in South Africa barely a week after the Proteas return from India and embark on an almost identical tour, just one T20 match short of the India itinerary. Some careers will be made and reputations established – others may be ended and broken. Injuries will play a part and attitudes will be tested.
By the end of the season, which ends with the T20 World Cup back in India, various players will have given up on some formats and others may even retire from international cricket altogether to extend their lifespan as ‘freelance’ mercenaries earning healthily from the domestic T20 circuit.
Those who make the greatest effort to enjoy the sights and sounds of India, however, are most likely to flourish in that country. The infrastructural modernisation, which has so transformed the country since South Africa’s first full tour in 1997, has done nothing to diminish or dampen the population’s enthusiasm for the game and its gladiators.
In fact, the rebuilding of most major airports to three or four times the capacity of their 1990s versions has allowed the growing middle class to travel more easily to more venues and inadvertently inflate the price of tickets at matches. The only thing that has changed is the autograph request. No Indian does that anymore. Only a selfie with a celebrity will do these days.
With expansion to travel and logistic options has come a huge improvement in the standards of hotels and food hygiene, meaning the sort of mass outbreak of poisoning that recently laid low 10 members of the South African ‘A’ squad is a rarity. And despite a burgeoning class of nouveau riche young Indians, the prevailing trend among the vast majority of the population is a profound desire to be of assistance.
In 1997 all-rounder Brian McMillan was not alone in his frustration at the failure of the main sponsor’s product to arrive at the team hotel. Crates of it had been driven to three cities but just missed the national squad as they took off to their next destination.
“Where is the Castle? Is the Castle here?” McMillan asked a man in a suit at reception. “Yes! Yes! Come with me!” he replied before signalling for a hotel car. Assuming he was required to help release the precious cargo from customs somewhere, McMillan climbed into the car and was driven to an old colonial-era military garrison on the outskirts of town. The assistant manager was grinning from ear to ear. “Here is the castle!”
The tour starts with three T20 games:
October 2: Dharamshala
October 5: Cuttack
October 8: Kolkata