I would later read about the South African team’s overwhelming reception  upon their arrival in Calcutta in the 2010 reminiscence of Kanishkaa Balachandran, sub-editor at Cricinfo: Their reception in Calcutta surpassed all expectations. Upon landing, some of the South Africans mistook the large gathering of people near the airport for protesters, but they had actually gathered to welcome the team. Children waved flags, flower petals were showered over the players, and the 15-mile journey took a few hours. The South African captain, (Clive) Rice summed it up perfectly: “I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon.”

For me the most emotional moment came on the evening of the 14th. As it was, South Africa had lost the first two of the series of three games, in Calcutta and Gwalior. Disappointed but not disheartened,  their countrymen are just happy to be playing international cricket. But they win the third game in the nation’s capital, New Delhi. And they win it big. By then I too am caught up in the hype that has blanketed the whole nation.

I stop at the reception to get my key and stop for a while to flirt with the sweet receptionists. I try  to make some lame joke about the series that has just concluded. And I hear them say in unison, BUT WE WON! These are the girls born of Indian parents, but I love their pride in their team. And from what I caught on the television, the crowds in New Delhi and the Indian team too were as jubilant that the visiting team had won. That their first time back in the arena, and it wouldn’t bid well for the hosts to send their guests back home downbeat and defeated.  Far from it. As I am leaving from Johannesburg’s Jan Smut International Airport on the morning of the 16th.. on my way to Bombay via Nairobi, the airport is swarming with the jubilant crowds – not knowing what had brought them there – I get a peek at the deplaning South African team returning home from New Delhi – all smiles and joy on their faces.

They would reciprocate India’s hospitality by inviting them a year later to play four test series on South African soil, billed as the Friendship Series and universally hailed as the historic tour in more ways than one.

 

© Haresh Shah 2013

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

Next Friday, May 17, 2013

YES

Thought the time has come to answer something you have been dying to ask since I began writing this blog 25 weeks ago. All is well and good, but where’s the beef? Come on, after all we’re talking Playboy! Well, just one more week and you would know!

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