Dead dogs and dodgy grub no excuse

It’s difficult to imagine there are many cricket followers around the world who aren’t delighted to see the West Indies prosper. They have endured
some pathetically embarrassing days, weeks and even months over the last decade so to see them reach a second successive Champions Trophy final is
deeply satisfying.

They had to qualify for the main tournament, remember, which they did with ease by beating Zimbabawe and Bangladesh before being humiliated once again in being dismissed for 80 by Sri Lanka.

Congratulations, men from the Caribbean. You have done your countries and your region proud. Good luck against Australia on Sunday.

When I return home to Cape Town my friends will ask me: ‘What the hell happened in the semi final?’ And I will reply ‘we were beaten by the better
team on the day.’ Then I might say that Loots Bosman confused the game-plan from the outset by batting so uncharacteristically slowly for his nonetheless worthy 39 from 58 balls. I might mention that selection convenor Haroon Lorgat’s insistence that Robin Peterson replaced the in-form Charl Langeveldt for the match wasn’t a universally popular decision.

But they would be largely conversational reasons to satisfy the disappointment and frustration of my friends. In some ways this has been a
tournament of ‘excuses’ and Graeme Smith and his men weren’t about to add to those made by several other teams.

South Africa were disappointed when their post-match comments about a substandard pitch in their first game against New Zealand were perceived to
be complaints and excuses for their defeat. In fact, they did nothing more than answer questions – and, following in their captain’s stated policy of
‘honesty before diplomacy’, their told the truth. It didn’t matter to the sceptics that Stephen Fleming agreed with Smith and coach Mickey Arthur that the pitch wasn’t fit for a one-day international. Or that the ICC appeared to agree with the SA verdict by ordering an emergency review of the Brabourne Stadium wicket which included the use of glue to help bind it together. The South Africans were labelled ‘moaners’ so they decided not to say anything else that could, in any way, be perceived to be a complaint.

When they arrived on Monday in Jaipur for the semi final on Thursday, there were some raised eyebrows – to say the least – when they checked into
their hotel, the not-so-aptly named ‘Gold Palace.’ Manager Goolam Raja had never heard of it and its facilities were, to coin a phrase, “not fit for
international cricket.”

At least, that was according to the players who had just spent two nights in the supremely luxurious Taj Palace in Delhi where the beautiful
rooms cost over $400 each.

So were they being a little fussy? Were they right to become distracted by all the things that didn’t work, the food that was apparently ‘inedible’,
the poor service and the lack of facilities? The fact that the hotel was an hours drive out of town, in Indian traffic containing camels, dogs, pigs and
elephants as well as the usual hoard of tuk-tuks, bicycles and oblivious pedestrians deserves genuine sympathy. A journey of 15 minutes in such
conditions, with the constant braking, swerving and hooting, can be as physically and mentally draining as a journey ten times as long on a South
African highway.

Apparently, however, it would seem that the players were not being precious. Team doctor Mohammed Moosajee, who has lived and worked most of
his life in one of Jo’burg’s least salubrious suburbs, Hillbrow, is not one given easily to a complaint. The food at the hotel was “sub-standard”, he
said without a moment’s hesitation. The hotel was “just not good enough” he continued while categorically stating that preparations for the semi final
had been “hardly ideal.”

Then again, Moosajee may be a well-balanced and objective observer of life but he is still a member of the South African squad. What were the
locals saying? An article on the front page of the Hindustan Times on match day, under the headline “Tourism bowls cricketers from Jaipur” began to
explain.

“An influx of tourists has bundled out cricketers from Jaipur,” it began. “Owing to the tourist season, team members participating in the
semi-finals have been forced to take refuge in the Gold Palace, some 25 km from the city,” the article said. Take refuge? It wasn’t exactly what the
South Africans were expecting when they arrived.

“There are so many tourists coming to Jaipur this season so all our rooms are fully booked. We had informed ICC well in advance about this, to
avoid inconvenience to players,” said Sanjay Kirpal, General Manager of the Rajputana Palace Sheraton where the teams would normally have stayed.

Ironically, Mark Boucher was asked on arrival in Jaipur about the role ‘excuses’ had played in the tournament so far with a host of players and
officials from other teams moaning about the effects of dew on the outfield, poor wickets and empty stands, amongst others.

“You can’t make excuses for anything at this stage of the tournament, it’s too far gone. At the beginning of the tournament we may have sounded
like we made excuses about the pitch when we lost to New Zealand but it was more out of shock than actually complaining,” Boucher said. “We were just so used to coming to India and playing on wickets that were so good,” he said.

On the way to the ground for training one day, on their bus, the tea we were held up in a traffic jam that had been caused by an accident between a
truck and a dog. Obviously the dog had come a distant second in this collision and the players were treated to the sight of a pack of other dogs
gathering around their stricken mate to eat its freshly spilled entrails straight from it’s warm carcass.

Young mothers, some terrifyingly young, walk between vehicles holding tiny infants in their arms, infants with gaping wounds or festering sores
are preferred, begging for money. “You see some things in India that you don’t see very often anywhere else in the world,” said Smith in a radio
interview during the team’s time in Jaipur.

But amongst all the natural challenges that India poses to tourists, one thing professional sportsmen need more than a gym, or a swimming pool, or a
comfortable bus, or firm bed or almost anything else, is nourishing, healthy food. The sight of Smith and his team eating cold take-aways ordered from
hotel in Jaipur after training was peculiar, to say the least.

But NOT an excuse!

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