SA, In­dia can now kiss and make up

The ‘spe­cial re­la­tion­ship’ be­tween the two crick­et­ing na­tions soured nas­tily, but san­ity will hope­fully pre­vail now Ha­roon Lor­gat has gone

Mail & Guardian - - Sport - Dileep Premachan­dran

ASouth African was the cat­a­lyst for the un­ri­valled riches that In­dian cricket en­joys to­day. In Novem­ber 1991, with South Africa in the throes of tran­si­tion from apartheid-era in­dig­ni­ties, a cricket team made its way to In­dia in an ag­ing Boe­ing 707 that had lit­tle to com­mend it other than a few crates of beer.

Once there, Dr Ali Bacher, no­to­ri­ous in the 1980s for or­gan­is­ing sev­eral rebel tours but now South African cricket’s main man, met Jag­mo­han Dalmiya, the sec­re­tary of the Board of Con­trol for Cricket in In­dia (BCCI). Mad­havrao Scin­dia, a politi­cian with the rul­ing Congress Party, may have been the board pres­i­dent but Dalmiya was the most in­flu­en­tial of courtiers.

Bacher asked him who would be broad­cast­ing the matches. Dalmiya’s an­swer shocked him. Do­or­dar­shan, the state broad­caster, had the rights and they wouldn’t pay the BCCI a penny for the priv­i­lege. Bacher wanted to en­sure that the matches would be shown in South Africa and he paid the In­dian board R250 000 for that.

Less than 18 months later, when Eng­land ar­rived in In­dia, Dalmiya played hard­ball with Do­or­dar­shan and sold the TV rights to Transworld In­ter­na­tional for the princely sum of $40 000.

That was the be­gin­ning. By late 2005, when a new gen­er­a­tion of ad­min­is­tra­tors led by Lalit Modi signed a new four-year TV deal for In­dian cricket, it was worth a whop­ping $612-mil­lion. It was Bacher who helped to open Dalmiya’s eyes to such pos­si­bil­i­ties. Modi, who helped to con­sign Dalmiya to half a decade in ex­ile, merely took things to the next level.

The story of that first South African tour was as much about pol­i­tics as it was about bring­ing the prodi­gal sons back into the fold.

Un­til Dalmiya and Bacher broke bread in 1991, the very idea of the two na­tions play­ing each other was pre­pos­ter­ous. Un­like Eng­land and Aus­tralia, which had played foot­sie with the apartheid regime un­til the protests grew too loud to ig­nore, In­dia had al­ways been an im­pla­ca­ble foe.

In 1974, that coun­try’s ten­nis team was happy to for­feit a Davis Cup fi­nal rather than play South Africa. It was a de­ci­sion ap­plauded at home, even as many won­dered why the ten­nis author­i­ties were so far be­hind the rest of the civilised world in tak­ing a stand against apartheid.

When Dalmiya re­ceived a phone call from Bacher in March 1991, he thought it was a prank. Later, he told the jour­nal­ist Mi­hir Bose: “I didn’t know you could ring In­dia from South Africa.”

Bacher had Steve Tsh­wete in his corner, but the West Indies and Pak­istan were still against South Africa’s ad­mis­sion. Also, Dalmiya needed the sup­port of Scin­dia, who was con­strained by his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions.

On the side­lines of the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil (ICC) meet­ing in Lon­don that sum­mer,

Dalmiya was on the re­ceiv­ing end of a tirade from the In­dian high com­mis­sioner Cen­tu­rion in 2009, I spoke to him about many to the United King­dom, who dis­ap­proved of of the is­sues the game’s ad­min­is­tra­tors had to him en­ter­ing into dis­cus­sions without get­ting wres­tle with. One of the ques­tions was on the gov­ern­ment clear­ance. pro­posed Test cham­pi­onship, an idea that

But Dalmiya would not be de­nied. Later would end up be­ing shelved for more than a that week, he lis­tened in as the high com­mis­sioner decade even as cricket boards par­roted the line spoke to Scin­dia, who would later have about the “pri­macy of Test cricket”. a 15-minute chat with Tsh­wete as well. After When asked about the dif­fi­cul­ties in­volved all the par­leys, the green light came from in get­ting the tour­na­ment off the ground, Narasimha Rao’s gov­ern­ment. Lor­gat was ex­tremely can­did. He laid the blame

The spe­cial re­la­tion­ship be­tween Dalmiya squarely at the door of the rich cricket boards, and Bacher wouldn’t last. By the mid­dle of the specif­i­cally men­tion­ing In­dia and Eng­land. decade, Dalmiya’s eyes were on the post of ICC Given how the ICC func­tions, with the in­flu­en­tial pres­i­dent. He let Bacher know that he wanted boards hav­ing the power to shape pol­icy, South Africa to be part of the Asian bloc, which it was an ex­traor­di­nar­ily brave state­ment to was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial. South make. Africa, though, wanted to adopt a neu­tral po­si­tion. When Dalmiya con­tested the post in 1997, South Africa ab­stained from vot­ing.

By the time In­dia had threat­ened not to play the Cen­tu­rion Test in 2001, after Mike Den­ness, the ICC match ref­eree, had sanc­tioned half a dozen In­dian play­ers, Bacher and Dalmiya were barely on speak­ing terms. But an “un­of­fi­cial Test” went ahead and the In­dia-South Africa re­la­tion­ship was sal­vaged. Things con­tin­ued on an even keel for a while, even as both Bacher and Dalmiya be­came in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant in cricket ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But new ruc­tions were felt soon after South African Ha­roon Lor­gat took over as the ICC’s chief ex­ec­u­tive.

On the night of the

Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy fi­nal at

In early 2011, one of the mar­quee World Cup matches was moved from Kolkata, Dalmiya’s fief­dom, to Ben­galuru at the 11th hour. The ICC cited the venue’s lack of pre­pared­ness. Eden Gar­dens, which had hosted the fi­nal in 1987 and one of the semi­fi­nals in 1996, ended up without a sin­gle game that would quicken the pulse.

BCCI of­fi­cials, although they pri­vately agreed about the sta­dium not be­ing fully ready, took it as a per­sonal slight. What went down even less well was Lor­gat’s per­ceived hau­teur. By the time he went back to Cricket South Africa (CSA), pow­er­ful of­fi­cials were wait­ing for a chance to get even.

It was Sachin Ten­dulkar who pre­sented them with the per­fect op­por­tu­nity. On the tour of South Africa in 2010-2011, he had made two hun­dreds, in­clud­ing a cen­tury for the ages at New­lands, against Dale Steyn at full throt­tle.

But, by Oc­to­ber 2013, six months after his 40th birth­day, age and di­min­ish­ing re­turns had caught up with him. He an­nounced that he would re­tire after In­dia’s next se­ries and told the board that he pre­ferred a farewell on home soil, in front of ador­ing fans who had ser­e­naded him for a quar­ter of a cen­tury.

There was just one prob­lem. In­dia were sched­uled to tour South Africa in De­cem­berJan­uary, an itin­er­ary that had been agreed on in July. Al­most overnight, the BCCI in­vited West Indies to tour and told CSA that they would only be avail­able for a trun­cated se­ries.

Ten­dulkar gave them the per­fect ex­cuse, but no one doubted that the move had ev­ery­thing to do with giv­ing Lor­gat a bloody nose.

Four years on, the re­la­tion­ship can only im­prove, es­pe­cially now that Lor­gat has left the build­ing.

“There was great di­vi­sion cre­ated among the ma­jor­ity,” one South African ad­min­is­tra­tor said when asked to as­sess Lor­gat’s ten­ure. “Politi­cians, too, thought very lit­tle of him based on the de­meanour he ex­hib­ited in deal­ings with them.”

As for In­dia, the glee in some quar­ters when the T20 Global League had to be post­poned for a year was pal­pa­ble. There had been un­hap­pi­ness again over the man­ner in which Lor­gat went about fi­nal­is­ing the sched­ule for In­dia’s up­com­ing tour.

De­spite stay­ing in the same ho­tel as the In­dian del­e­ga­tion dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy — “We would see him at break­fast,” one of­fi­cial told me — he didn’t come to the In­di­ans with an itin­er­ary un­til the one for Aus­tralia’s tour, which only starts in March, had been fi­nalised.

Lor­gat made sev­eral trips to In­dia ear­lier this year to try to get In­dian broad­cast­ers and spon­sors in­ter­ested in the T20 com­pe­ti­tion. Most of them were wary, and had no de­sire to en­ter into any agree­ments that might in­cur the wrath of the BCCI, some of whose of­fi­cials for­get less than any pachy­derm.

In that sense, Lor­gat may have cost CSA far more than a lu­cra­tive Test.

More than 26 years after Dalmiya and Bacher first ex­changed pleas­antries, it’s now up to a new set of of­fi­cials to re­pair a re­la­tion­ship that’s been frac­tured many times by the in­abil­ity of some to see be­yond their own mas­sive egos.

Ruc­tions: Ha­roon Lor­gat was a di­vi­sive fig­ure both at the ICC and CSA

His­toric day: In 1991, the first post-iso­la­tion one-day in­ter­na­tional be­tween In­dia and South Africa in Kolkata was watched by a record crowd after Dr Ali Bacher helped to bro­ker a thaw in re­la­tions. But the bi­lat­eral love af­fair was to prove short-lived. Photo: Shaun Bot­ter­ill

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