Cricket was once described as ‘Alice without the Wonderland’ because, though it removed its participants from the real world, the occasional moments of magic and success are far outweighed by individual mediocrity and failure.
As said many times before, a batsman is regarded as ‘successful’ if he scores 50 or more. Sometimes, certainly at international level, even if he scores 50 he may be regarded as more of a failure than if he receives a jaffer of a delivery which sends him on his way for nought.
Bowlers are even more hard done by. A back-breaking day’s grind can earn just two wickets, sometimes just one, but his efforts may elicit no more than a ho-hum reaction from supporters.
Which is why it is so important to keep ‘real life’ in context.
Which is more important, the fact that Neil McKenzie scored 94 and 155 not out in Chennai and, on the back of his 236 in Chittagong earlier this month, that his average has soared from a distinctly modest 32 to almost 39? Or the fact that Ashwell Prince has been teaching him the rudiments of Skype so that he is able to see and hear the first gurglings of son Luke back in Johannesburg?
Another ‘real world’ element of this tour has been the presence and behaviour of Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton in the Indian change room. I wasn’t the only member of the South African tour party who wondered how they might behave in the presence of many old friends and faces. Graeme Smith said it would be “harder for them than us because they still have to find their place within the Indian squad.”
He was right, of course, but there has been absolutely no sign of the furtive avoidance with which Duncan Fletcher treated his old mates in South Africa when he returned as coach of England. Fletcher, again understandably, believed that England’s tabloids would rubbish him if they witnessed him having a chat, let alone a post-match beer, with any of his old friends and so chose to stay very close to the England team.
I was amongst several who criticised him for that and it took a few years for us to ‘make up.’ He had a point, naturally. I just felt that friends of 20 years standing should also be important.
Kirsten and Upton may well rue the ‘openness and maturity’ of their approach but, for now, their own brand of maturity – which is most certainly shared by captain Anil Kumble – appears to be welcomed by the rest of the Indian team too. So while it would be stretching a point to say that it was like one big, happy family on the aeroplanes from Chennai to Ahmedabad via Mumbai, not least because there were only five Indian players on board so it was hardly ‘big’, there was certainly more friendliness than I have, perhaps, ever encountered on an aeroplane with both teams during a tour. And there have been a few.
Why were there only five Indian players? Because Kirsten, it seems, is quietly determined to implement a few changes. Throughout the second half of his career, he continually advocated the importance of rest and mental freshness. So he gave the Indian the squad the choice between having 36 hours at home between the opening two Test matches and travelling straight to Ahmedabad. Either way, his players will be having two days rest and not training again until Wednesday, the day before the game. South Africa will train on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Oh, and Kirsten wasn’t on the plane, either. He took an early morning flight on a low-cost airline called ‘Spice’ in order to spend a little more time with wife and sons in Bangalore. There really can be a ‘real world’ element to international cricket. You just have to make a bit of an effort and not be afraid of the negative consequences, if there can be any.
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