Criticism of India is in fact a load of Delhi belly

2010-10-02 00:00

TO arrive in Delhi for an overnight stay was to anticipate a city under siege and a room full of reptiles. Australian papers had delighted in publishing pictures of snakes seized from the athletes’ village and their English counterparts relished every snap of filthy bathrooms and cracked walls. Of course soldiers were out in force. Instead the roads and airports were quiet. Ultimately the calm might be a bigger danger to the Games than all the threats. Where were the spectators? Where was the buzz? Why had the great performers stayed away?

In part the hullabaloo indicated natural concern about the welfare of the participants. After all sportsmen are regarded as fair game these days, with soccer and cricket teams attacked in recent times. Moreover people raised in Milton Keynes and other dormitory towns are poorly prepared for the hustle and bustle of Indian and African life, let alone its excesses. Unsurprisingly they panic when things like cobras, dengue fever and fanatics are mentioned. Suddenly home seems safe and sensible and so far away.

In part the alarmed reaction told of the snootiness of the sort this country encountered after it was given charge of the soccer World Cup. Australians used to pride themselves on their hardiness but nowadays they are easily flustered. Englishmen used to retain a frosty exterior in fiery times, but these days all too easily go weak at the knees. Doubtless the same can be said about other supposedly advanced nations.

Meanwhile the Indians feel aggrieved both that famous athletes have ignored the Games and by the attention paid to grievances about crumbling buildings and so forth. South Africa’s SWC was undermined by dire warnings about murder and rape yet it went ahead without a hitch. Nor is it wise to judge India till the deed has been done. If the past is anything to go by the locals only respond to a crisis.

Complaints that it was a mistake to give the Games to Delhi ought to be ignored. India is a vast and secular country whose wealth and importance grows with every passing year. Of course it had to be given its chance.

Indeed good may come of the debacle, if it happens. Indians have been embarrassed by the exposés and hereafter might be reluctant to tolerate corrupt public officials with their backhanders and delays. Locals say that private enterprise was the way to go.

Moreover the Commonwealth Games is not really about excellence and champions. It is a meeting of countries bound together by common history. The Games are supposed to be friendly — not exclusive. All sorts take part and the event can be staged in all kinds of places. Most of the nations fought besides Britain and Australia in war time, and many suffered grievously. India put aside its struggle for Independence to fight shoulder to shoulder with their colonial ruler. The valour of the Gurkhas is a byword.

All the more reason to give the host some leeway. All the more reason to wait and see how things work out. All the more reason to take part and to avoid grizzling about minor inconveniences.

Whether or not the Games can survive irrelevance is another matter.

They are starting to look like an anachronism. As far as the top performers are concerned it is not a vital part of the programme. The Olympics and World Championships are far more important. Gold medals in those events are cherished.

After all a competitor needs to beat the entire world to get those gongs. The Commonwealth is merely a somewhat querulous family.

Unfortunately cricket has no place in these games. Instead the Indian and Australian teams are meeting in the northern city of Chandigarh, a place that lacks the charm, challenges and cricketing heritage detected in the rest of the country.

Truth to tell the series seems like an afterthought.

Two-Test series are never satisfactory but it’s better than seven ODIs, which was the alternative.

Australia are obliged to visit India every year in return for obtaining 25% of the rights to the Champions League. Although the campaign is short it is all studded with stars.

India stand on top of the rankings and will rely on their powerful and ageless batting order to subdue an Australia outfit untouched by genius but sustained by effort.

It’s going to be a fascinating summer and it’s a relief to be talking about and watching cricket again.

Sport is never the problem. Human nature is the problem.

• Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent based in Pietermaritzburg.

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