India tour ain’t over ’til it’s started … already

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

“ALREADY,” Lerato Malekutu, the SA team’s media minder, said looking down at her cellphone when it rang moments before the start of the press conference called for the departure of the national Twenty20 squad from Johannesburg on Saturday.

“Plus-91; oh my word.”

T20 captain Faf du Plessis, who was at her elbow ready to field questions from the gathered reporters, offered empathy: “Plus-91 … You know what’s coming.”

Indeed, she did. Plus-91 is the international dialling code for India, where SA will be until December 7 to play three T20s, five one-day internationals and four tests.

And that in cricket’s biggest media goldfishbowl, which is fed by some 87 000 newspapers in one of the few countries in which circulation figures are rising.

There are also around 1 400 television channels in India. Radio? Who knows, but there are 17 stations in Delhi alone, 16 in Calcutta and another 17 in Mumbai. And those are only the FM stations.

Similarly, it is difficult to put a number on how many Indian websites are devoted to cricket. But it is a fact that some of them are among the most widely read on the entire internet.

The grandma of them all, ESPNcricinfo, had a daily average of 5.8-million unique visitors during the 2015 World Cup. How many of them were Indian?

The site’s daily record was set on March 26, when 13-million people logged on to follow the semi-final between Australia and India. The previous record of 12-million had been set a week earlier – when India played Bangladesh in the quarter-finals.

On Saturday, one member of that significantly sized army of reporters covering cricket in India was calling Malekutu. And the tour had yet to start …

But, already, there was news: David Wiese was out of the T20 squad with a broken hand and replaced by Albie Morkel; Khaya Zondo had been included in the ODI equation because of Rilee Rossouw’s stress fracture of the foot.

In fact, weeks ago SA reporters were being contacted by Indian colleagues who had questions like: “Who is this Linda Zondi and what does she do?”

That was before selection convenor Zondi announced the squads he and his panel had chosen for the tour. Then Zondi handed the reins to coach Russell Domingo to coax the players out of their off-season. His approach? The silent treatment.

“I’ve tried not to talk too much to the players in the past few weeks because they are going to be tired of me talking to them in the next few weeks,” Domingo said.

“I’d hate to be talking spin to them for three weeks before we get there, and we get there and guys are already mentally blown before we’ve seen a ball been bowled.”

The first ball will be bowled in a warm-up match against a Board President’s XI in Delhi on Tuesday and the first T20 is in Dharamsala on Friday. But, already, SA know what’s coming.

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