India’s debt to South Africa can never truly be repaid. It was on a train ride to Pietermaritzburg * that Mahatma Gandhi was thrown off a train owing to the colour of his skin. The incident set the course for India’s independence struggle and changed the course of a country’s history. Nearly a century later, South Africa finds itself in a freedom struggle of its own – that from the whims and fancies of the Board of Cricket Control of India.
* Pietermaritzburg is the capital and second largest city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
For all of the misfortune and bad luck that South African cricket has been subject to, they have always made for more than formidable hosts. Till the 2010 India-South Africa series, when India’s famed batting line-up came good and secured a 1-1 draw, South African tours only conjured up dreadful memories of double digit team scores, pacers who breathed fire and expletives in tandem, and line ups who came to the tour as men but returned as boys. At a time when the future of test cricket is up for debate, a series between the no. 1 test team and India should be one to look forward to. Instead the supposed transgressions committed by one Haroon Lograt have resulted in the BCCI settling personal scores with school yard bullying tactics.
A series worth its salt is being replaced with a bland offering in the form of a home series against West Indies. Away tours are baptisms by fire, the true measure of caliber, tenacity and grit and the final homecoming in the crowning of a champion. Facing up to Dale Steyn and Albie Morkel at the Wanderers will not only make for riveting viewing but will also serve as a master class. In India’s 96 tour of South Africa, they were bundled for 66 and 100 in a test match. The batting line-up consisted of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. It was more or less the same group of players who would go on to lead the team to the number one position a little more than a decade later. The Indian team’s ascendancy came on the backbone of crushing defeats in South Africa, England and Australia. While previous contingents may have chosen to discredit the lessons learned on overseas tours or simply couldn’t muster the self-belief to win overseas, the golden generation chose otherwise.
In this entire melee is the quest to give Sachin Tendulkar a fitting ending. But attempting to manufacture a fairytale ending doesn’t do justice to a career that comes once-in-a-lifetime. It’s every sportsperson’s wish to play the last game of their career in front of an adoring home crowd and walk into the sunset after having vanquished the opponent in a final never-to- be-witnessed-again blaze of glory. Michael Jordan’s second retirement in 1999 when he pushed aside Byron Russel and shot to secure the Chicago Bulls their second consecutive two peat is one such moment when fate, chance and destiny united to provide a fairytale ending. That Michael Jordan came out of retirement two years later for two very forgettable seasons with the Washington Wizards is another story. Shane Warne finished off his international career with an Ashes win while Sunil Gavaskar was bowled out for 96 in his final innings where India lost to arch rivals Pakistan 1-0. The great Don Bradman’s last stand on a cricket pitch resulted in a duck. Closer home, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid lost the last 8 test matches they played for India.
It is but obvious the BCCI doesn’t subscribe to Spiderman’s philosophy ; that with great power comes great responsibility. It tampers with tour schedules, ignores fruitful suggestions and treats any dissent with impunity. It is only a matter of time before the walls they have erected around themselves come crumbling down. It doesn’t pay to be the richest cricketing board if all you are doing is leaving the game poorer.