“F*ck. You win.”
My colleague Kevin McCallum and I were in India (and later Bangladesh and then Sri Lanka) to cover the Proteas’ progress at the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
McCallum sat on my right hand side in the front row of the press box at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur. To his right sat a local cricket scribe, who had, as Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni handed the ball to Ashish Nehra to bowl the last over of the match between South Africa and India, decided that was it, this game was gone for the home team. He closed his laptop.
McCallum and I swapped quizzical looks. South Africa still needed 13 runs to win. One of us said something along the lines of “It’s not over yet.” That local reporter was having none of it. “No,” he replied while shaking his head, “Nehra is sh*t, you win.”
Robin Peterson and Faf du Plessis were at the crease, with the former on strike for that last over. There were 40000 packed into the venue including a handful of South Africans on a SA Breweries sponsored tour. They had apparently consumed all beer on the bus while stuck in the traffic jam heading to the game so the Indian innings had been a blur.
I’d like to say it was really loud – it probably was – but we were in a glassed off press box, so unless you stepped outside you never got a sense of the cacophony.
49.1 – Peterson, takes an almighty swing to a full-ish delivery, nicks the ball with the inside edge of his bat it flies passed the stumps out of the reach of Dhoni to the fine leg boundary. Four runs. Nine to get.
It’d been a weird week leading up to that match and a weird Saturday in terms of covering the game itself. I had a swollen thumb, that I found out later was some kind of infection. McCallum had flu.
South Africa were trying to recover from an awful loss to England on a scrappy pitch in Chennai the week before where the age-old questions (they were already old even then) about the team’s mental fragility were raised.
Nagpur, by Indian standards, is a sleepy town. In fact in the tournament guide given to journalists the city was said to be famous for oranges and of the best activities to do in the afternoon, was sleep.
Just over 2-million people call it home and it was a strange decision for the organisers (really the BCCI although the ICC apparently runs the tournament) to play the match there.
49.2 – Nehra misses his length and Peterson connects properly, annihilating the ball over cow corner for six. Pandemonium in the SA dressing room. Still 3 runs to get though.
It was a long week. The players were miffed with the result against England and Imran Tahir, the new star of South African cricket broke a finger. X-rays were being emailed back and forth between India and SA to establish the seriousness thereof. He wanted to play against India, but team management decided to bench him. There were still two group games and the knockout rounds left, there was no point risking what had turned into the team’s best attacking weapon with the ball. Win or lose SA would make the quarter-finals as they long as they beat Ireland in their next match.
The one plus of that portion of the trip was we stayed in a pretty good hotel – the Sun ‘n Sands, which was about halfway between the city and the stadium. It was still a fairly new place and was apparently built with the World Cup in mind. It had a good restaurant – with a variety of foods (and not just curry) and a very well stocked bar. McCallum and I ensured we made friends with the barmen – all of them.
At various stages during the week, other SA journalists who stayed in less plush hotels (which in some cases turned out to be more expensive) in the city would come and do their work at the Sun ‘n Sands because it had reliable WiFi. But it really was because of that bar (and the restaurant).
49.3 – Peterson, squeezes the ball, a very well executed yorker, to fine leg, hares back for the second, puts in a dive, making sure his right hand is on top of the bat as he does so to ensure it doesn’t bounce off the ground. He makes it – just. The scores are tied.
The day before the game, McCallum and I were waiting for our cab or tuc-tuc back to the hotel from the ground when a bloke walked up to us and said if we give him 150 rupees he’d take us back to the hotel. It was a little more than we’d paid for the tuc tuc, but the car was a plush sponsored vehicle specifically for the use of a Mr De Oliveira.
The driver was pissed off at De Oliveira for keeping him waiting and reckoned he’d make a quick buck and maybe even piss Mr De Oliveira off if he arrived while he was dropping us. We hopped in. The look on some colleagues and commentators faces when we got back to the hotel, to be dropped off at the front door, priceless. Danny Morrison was speechless for the first time in his life (at least that’s what I told myself).
49.4 – Peterson laces a cover drive for four. Game over. South Africa win.
Some of us reckoned the outcome was sweet revenge after what had happened earlier when arriving at the ground. Two of us – myself included – were subject to a fairly extensive body search upon entering the ground. There’s a policeman in Nagpur whose hands went to places they shouldn’t have. That policeman also learned some very choice words from the suburb of Retreat.
Post match was madness. Graeme Smith turned up at his press conference with a bruise on his face. Apparently he’d copped a ‘celebratory slap’ from someone – teammate or member of management he couldn’t remember. The dressing room was a mess. Joy and relief mixed with a week’s worth of pent up frustration. The World Cup challenge was back on, in a pretty big way.
Later we’d hear about Morne van Wyk, who’d gone from surprise squad pick to even bigger surprise starter, mixing up vitamin pills with sleeping tablets before the game. His keeping had been awful earlier, and he missed a sitter when an outside edge from Virender Sehwag went at a comfortable pace and height between him and slip for four. Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar were dishing out a pasting to the South African bowlers. Their opening stand of 142 came in just 17 overs. Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir put on 125 in 22 overs for the second wicket. India should have scored 400 plus. They only managed 296.
Dale Steyn picked up 5/50. Peterson, who had a great tournament, 2/52.
Dhoni loaded all the blame for India’s loss on his middle and lower order batsmen – of which he was a part – lamenting them for being a bunch of showoffs. Obviously, it was a lesson they would learn pretty well.
The South African journalists – including one who’d been involved in an extremely heated telephonic argument with an editor who couldn’t understand why he didn’t have a match report before the match had ended – met for a beer or three at the Sun ‘n Sands bar.
It was supposed to close at 1am. It did. But it stayed open for the journos until 3. At the time many of us were thinking, this World Cup could be South Africa’s to win.
By Stuart Hess