On any other day, this could have been an extraordinary game of Twenty20 cricket. South Africa smashed a total at almost 11 runs to the over, India's chase began speedily and the match was set up for a thrilling finish. Today was not that day, though. The game was labelled a farce and no matter which way you look at it, that's pretty much what it was.
Sure, all traditions have to start somewhere and this one is just trying to find its feet so it probably should be cut some slack. It had its beginnings at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban in January 2011, when the idea to have a marquee game to bid farewell to Makhaya Ntini became reality. Accompanied by a Bollywood concert, it was a novelty. If it was repeated once a year, at a suitable time, it would have been able to retain that novelty.
But the naked truth about the way it was handled this year is that it felt forced. Neither CSA nor the BCCI made any attempt to disguise how loudly money talks in their decision to have this game on this day. It has been slotted in a little over a week after India's journey at the Asia Cup ended, five days before the IPL begins and less than 48 hours after South Africa returned from their tour of New Zealand. Slotted in is giving it too much credit, it has been squeezed in the way a couch has to move through a doorway, awkwardly.
South Africa countered the scheduling maze by picking a squad that involved only one player who was in the Test squad in New Zealand - Lonwabo Tsotsobe, the most economical bowler of the night. Their fringe players, such as Colin Ingram and Farhaan Berhardien, gave a decent account of themselves but whether their performances will materialise into more chances to play international cricket is questionable. There's every chance that most of what happened in this match will be forgotten.
Gary Kirsten, the coach, suggested that South Africa would treat this match as a "fairly light-hearted" affair. In fact, they handled it with even less care than that.
The squad did not hold a single training session. Late on Thursday afternoon, the day before the match, Johan Botha had not even met Kirsten, nor did he have any idea about who would be in his starting XI. Two hours before the start, none of that had changed. Dane Vilas was clueless whether he would keep or Morne van Wyk would get the gloves. Tsotsobe had only just arrived from Port Elizabeth and didn't know if he would play. South Africa's management were sending a message that they would treat a match without context with the casualness it calls for.
India treated it with more respect. They arrived two days before with some of their best players, held a net session and discussed the match with sincerity. MS Dhoni usually has a hint of mischief in his voice but that only came when he left his press conference and slipped in this prophetic remark. "Let's hope it doesn't rain," Dhoni quipped. But, rain it did. The showers added a different dimension of meaninglessness to an already hollow game and almost fittingly brought it to its end.
Perhaps its biggest failing was that the match was marketed as a tribute to Jacques Kallis. Only an invitation to contest a pillow-fight or a game of noughts and crosses would be a more ill-fitting way to honour the all-rounder. Kallis has served South African cricket as a colossus of courage and class. This match was neither of those things. It was crass.
It had all the usual ingredients of a T20 match. Music, dancers, fireworks, cheeky shots, body-flinging fielding, and a constant drone around the stands that got louder and louder until it was deafening. Kallis and all that he has given South African cricket deserved more that. Actually, he probably deserved less. A less meaningless and more thoughtful way of showing appreciation for his service to the game. He also deserved it at a different time, considering retirement is not in his immediate plans.
The man himself would never say so and the money being given to his scholarship foundation softens the blow of such a garish gesture. If only the blow was not so hard to start off with.
Edited by Abhishek Purohit