TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
YOU need to go a long way in India to find the place where football is more popular than cricket, and SA’s test squad have been there this week.
That place is Goa, the beachy, peachy state on the west coast famous for its Portuguese inspired architecture and food – and, yes, the fact that football is a bigger game than cricket there.
It is the smallest of India’s 29 states in terms of area but among the richest because of its roaring tourist trade.
How cool does the world think Goa is? Cool enough to call a particular blend of plinky, plonky electronic music “Goa trance”.
If you need to indulge in something calming to be able to tell the plinks from the plonks, Goa’s army of friendly neighbourhood tuk-tuk-drivers-cum-ganja-dealers will be happy to oblige.
After spending time in this idyll, SA’s players will know all that already. Not that we are suggesting they inhaled. Just the opposite: they had earned the chance to exhale by reeling off five wins in seven completed matches on tour.
That meant victory in the Twenty20 and one-day series, and in handsome style. SA have played confident, calm, exciting, expressive, thinking, thoughtful cricket and deserve all the credit that comes their way.
Two out of three ain’t bad, especially for a team like SA in an environment like India. But add the test series – which starts in Chandigarh next Thursday – to their list of successes and this would become their best performance in history.
Anyone who wants to smuggle the weasel word “arguably” in front of that assertion had better have a bloody good counter argument to offer.
Here’s hoping not too much of that kind of discussion has been part of what SA’s players have been talking about for the past few days.
Before the tour, which at 72 days long will be SA’s longest to India, team management spoke of the importance of giving the players opportunities to remember that there is a world beyond the boundary.
“Somewhere in between we are planning a two or three-day trip to Goa, which is probably going to be more lighthearted and get guys to take their minds of cricket,” manager Mohammed Moosajee said the day the T20 squad left SA.
“We need to get creative about how we manage the guys. The problem with India is that its not easy to get away, especially with our players who are well recognised there. You can take a trip to the Taj Mahal but the problem is you are going to get mobbed.”
So, for now, SA would do themselves a power of good to put aside concerns over the leg problem that kept Morne Morkel out of the fifth one-day international on Sunday and the hand injury that ruled JP Duminy out of the last two one-day internationals.
They should also not fret too much about the fact that Hashim Amla, the test team captain and the rock on which SA build their innings, has averages 18.14 after seven innings on tour.
After all, these things have been true since the fifth ODI. And that didn’t turn out badly, did it?