Good and evil are still at odds

2009-04-17 00:00

SOUTH Africa has shown its best and worst side over the last few days. Warmth and crime have contended for the ring, laying about each other with such force that in the instant of the blow their triumph appears inevitable. But the foe is not so easily slain, staggers for an instant, absorbing the blow and then rousing itself to land a fist that seems to shatter ribs and end the bout. And so it continues, never suburban, never bourgeois, often damning, often uplifting. Meanwhile the head spins and the brain tires, one minute distraught, the next alive.

On the bright side, the crowd in Port Elizabeth for the decisive one-day match counted amongst the most cheerful and generous observed for decades. Throughout the match they sang lustily and in tune and entertained themselves without resorting too often to drink and Mexican waves.

Towards the end, as victory became inevitable, they sang not a song of triumph but a serenade to the visiting team. “Bye-bye, Australia,” they intoned soulfully, “bye-bye Australia, please come back again.”

From others it might have sounded corny, even boastful, but from this chorus it was a gesture of hospitality. Apart from the coldness between Ricky Ponting and his opponents (most of them in the home side), the match was played in a vibrant atmosphere and ended in a deserved victory for a home outfit no longer remotely intimidated by these rivals.

Doubtless the question marks about Johan Botha’s action removed some of the gloss felt by the hosts. Not wanting to appear grudging, visiting players and media have not voiced any reservations about his action. In any case he is only a spinner and his jerks alone do not explain the batsmen’s incompetence against him — his changes of pace and spin were well disguised but he was only delivering cricket balls.

Now that the matter has been raised it is honourable to say that his release has raised eyebrows.

The intervention confirms that the ICC’s strategy of dealing with dubious actions is working. In the past the issue was either ducked or became an international incident. Careers were ruined by a single call, which put unfair pressure on umpires. Now authorities try to rehabilitate a player with a wonky arm. Throwing was far more widespread in 1902 and 1952 and even 2002 than it is these days. Mind you, Shoaib Akhtar’s ridiculous return will not improve matters.

Besides the 50-over matches, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth were also jam-packed with IPL aficionados. Apparently 2 500 VIPs were arriving from India — thespians, politicians, businessmen, past players and the local equivalents of Paris Hilton. Mind you it’s not that hard to be cast as a VIP in that neck of the woods. Only VVIPs and VVVIPS are taken seriously. Almost every leading player was in town. One minute reporters were dashing off to interview Shane Warne, the next it was Kumar Sangakkara or Mahendra Dhoni. Rumours spread that everyone except Elvis Presley was appearing at the opening ceremony, and some thought he might make it.

As far as could be told, locals were excited about the IPL matches — 8 300 turned up to watch the Rajasthan Royals go through their paces against the Cape Cobras.

Elsewhere the papers have been full of talk about the tournament. Handled properly, IPL will bring a bonanza to the hosting cities. And it can serve as a handy trial run for the Confederation Cup and World Cup (by the way, the soccer stadiums in the Cape look mightily impressive). IPL’s main enemy will be the weather. May can be a chilly month in Gauteng and down south.

But it has not been all beer and boerewors. During the weekend, a house occupied by students and sons attending UKZN, was broken into and burgled. Eventually the sleeping youngsters awoke to encounter thieves wielding knives. Chase was given but they escaped with cash, clothes and electrical goods.

Sixteen hours later another adopted son parked his car, inherited from his late mother and his pride and joy, outside Newlands while he watched a 20-over friendly. An hour later he went back to fetch a jacket and the car was gone, towed away, apparently, by robbers posing as cops. He was distraught. No sign has been seen of any of the stolen goods or vehicles, nor those taken in previous years, mostly within a nine iron of the UKZN gates.

Life goes along, hope springs eternal and all that. Of course it all starts at the top, leadership is everything. At present it is my pleasure to direct three distinct communities. Two of them are selflessly run, and it shows.

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

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