Right place, right time

2009-03-27 00:00

SOUTH Africa can take confidence from the fact that the IPL and Champions Trophy (CT) will be held in this country in 2009. Not so long ago this nation was a pariah; now it is regarded as a flawed but hospitable land with enough experience and strength to stage prestigious international tournaments, even at the drop of a hat. As far as the Champions Trophy is concerned, it’s no small thing to take responsibility for the top eight cricketing countries, yet South Africa did not baulk at it. Previously sport was used as a weapon of propaganda (hence all the Eastern European drug cases). Now it is at the mercy of terrorists. South Africa was able to offer a relatively safe location and the prospect of sunshine and suitable grounds. Spectators will be the problem. It is hard to create atmosphere in an empty ground.

Nor is holding the IPL a minor operation. After all 59 matches are played in a few weeks and stars of stage and screen, dancing girls, commentators, scribes, umpires, support staff, spectators and so forth will descend on the cities. Again South Africa put up its hand, a reaction that shows the administration in a good light. For that matter, the same judgment was shown in Cricket SA’s refusal to rush into renewed contact with the rogues and scoundrels running its counterpart in Zimbabwe. Alas, the Indian Board knows no such restraint, but then it has been happy to dance with the devil so long as he votes the right way.

Once they have considered the matter, CSA may conclude that playing cricket against Zimbabwe, with its new Sports minister, is the lesser of two evils. If unity is good enough for Tendai Biti then it ought to be good enough for the rest of us. Of course, the same argument was used to justify South Africa’s participation in the 1992 World Cup. Thereabouts I shared a taxi with Steve Tshwete and he pointed out that he had come along. Since he had spent 16 years on Robben Island the continuing protests seemed stupid.

Apart from being a fillip for the local economy the CT and IPL give this country a chance to prove its ability and confirm its wider attractions. Hotels, game parks, concert halls, restaurants, transport companies and so forth ought to be putting on their very best shows.

Apart from anything else, it is by no means certain that it is a one-off. Once these troubles begin, and previous boundaries are ignored, it puts in motion a sequence of reprisals and revenges that have a momentum of their own. If it rises to the occasion, South Africans may get further opportunities to host IPL. Actually it could aim higher.

Indeed it could be a long time before the sub-continent is able to stage a full-scale tournament containing lots of players from all parts of the cricketing world, and that includes the 2011 World Cup. Without wishing its friends and fellow travellers any harm, South Africa ought to be making tentative preparations to stage that competition. Personal safety is paramount in the minds of modern players, particularly those from the West, none of whom grew up in a time of war. It’ll only take a few more cunningly timed and placed incidents to shake them. Disrupting daily life is the aim of these peddlers of misery. Has one amongst them a humanitarian bone in his body?

IPL’s first year was a hoot. Cricket cannot wear a long face the entire time. Shakespeare and Mozart wrote comedies as well as tragedies ,so it cannot be beneath the rest of us. Cricket allows players to test themselves and offers thrills and entertainment, and like the best of its kind works on different levels, the raw and the reflective. Twenty-over cricket attracts sportsmen as opposed to connoisseurs, but does so without offending the latter. Its rise does not herald the end of civilisation or Test cricket, which in some views go hand in hand. Test cricket can only write its own obituary. As the recent campaigns between Australia and South Africa have shown, it can provide exceptional stimulation and sustained tension.

T20 is tailored to its period. IPL is the most important version of T20. Allen Stanford has been exposed as a cad and a bounder — his lady did not like the dry cleaning in Antigua so he flew it elsewhere — and nothing more will be heard from him. ICL, the original league now cast as a rebel, seems to belong to bookies, juveniles and ancients, some of them greedy. IPL is relatively clean and vibrant. It pits great players against each other in matches lasting three hours. Obviously it is mostly a television spectacle, but that can be said about almost every significant sporting event.

South Africa has been in the right place at the right time. But that is only part of it. This country has also become an acceptable destination and its cricket administration has shown a willingness to have a crack. At all sorts of levels, that ought to stir pride in locals.

•Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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