When the circus leaves town

The front desk is barely manned now, house-keeping staff mope down the corridors like farm-hands having to muck out pigs and the possy of balding, overweight policemen who had been positioned outside the elevators on every floor have gone, too, leaving just the smell of their socks to remind us of their presence.

The phalanx of uniforms filled with self-importance which made life so miserable for the innocent rickshaw peddlers while the teams were staying in the hotel is gone, too. In fact, everybody has gone. I think I may actually be the only person in the hotel in Kanpur. The only one paying, that is.

If the Proteas could be accused of leaving with indecent haste, think again. Given the fact that nobody in the world of cricket was thinking of a three-day finish when the third day began, not a single bag was packed nor extras bill paid. Yet the home side were on a bus pulling out of the city within an hour of returning to the hotel.

The best Goolam Raja could manage for Graeme Smith and the boys was a 6.00am departure the following morning. Is Kanpur really that bad? Yes.

The Indian team and media can’t stand coming here and actively encouraged the South African media and players to highlight how unacceptable it is as an international venue and to lodge formal complaints, where applicable.

Raja did lodge an official complaint with the BCCI months before the tour began and was backed up by CSA chief executive Gerald Majola. But that was the equivalent of complaining about the quality of prison food. It was never going to make the slightest bit of difference.

Mickey Arthur, as most people who have met him will testify, is not a man who likes to make a fuss but, having penned a twice-weekly column a couple of Indian newspapers on tour, he couldn’t help telling the truth in his final offering before departure:
“On the slightly less positive side was the venue. It seems a shame that South Africa keeps being scheduled to play in Kanpur.

There are a number of ICC stipulations that apply to Test match venues and I’m afraid Kanpur falls short of meeting them.     When India travel to South Africa we regard the tourists as world leaders and deserving of the best we can offer. India always plays at our best venues and nothing in the way of hospitality is spared. I have no desire to criticise the city, but it became very obvious to me that nobody seems to enjoy coming here – not the Indian team, the local media or anybody from the BCCI.

The life of a professional cricketer may appear to be a glamorous one, but it often requires nine months away from home in many years. It is essential to be able to ‘move about’ and ‘get away’ from your hotel room. That doesn’’t seem possible in Kanpur, never mind the practice and player facilities at the ground. I apologise sincerely if this offends Kanpurites, but I’m afraid this is amongst the least popular venues in international cricket.”

It’s OK for Mickey, he’s in Dubai on his way back to Johannesburg as I write this. I was forced to pay for all eight nights of my hotel room booking upfront and, having committed to staying on for the opening IPL match in Bangalore on Friday, there didn’t much of a choice but to stay here.

On the second evening of the Test match I invited one of India’s most talented cricket writers, and an old friend of mine, to come over to the hotel for a beer and a pizza. He was detained by the posse in the lobby and refused permission to go any further. I had to go downstairs to rescue him and even then it took 10 minutes of haggling and the arrival of the manager before my point, which was that I had paid for the right to invite a guest for dinner, was accepted.

Right now it feels like the circus has left town and there’s nothing but old popcorn boxes and other rubbish on the ground – but the rubbish is always here in Kanpur.

What a difference 24 hours will make. I head to marvellous Mumbai soon and then, after another 24-hours, I’ll be in busy, dashing Bangalore with the glitz and confetti of the IPL launch on Friday.

Did we just have a Test series? What was the score…?

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