It was only recently that I discovered, much to my dismay, that Zimbabwe doesn't owe its erstwhile name, Rhodesia, to the cricket legend, Jonty Rhodes, but to one Cecil Rhodes, the gent who colonised the territory, and also the dude behind De Beers and the Rhodes scholarship.
Sanju Samson was made to travel more than twice what Cecil Rhodes did from England to Africa, approximately 16,9753km, to discover there was no way he could rename it Samsonia. Small mercies, he wasn't made to set sail from Fort Cochin.
Instead Samson was couriered rather hurriedly after Ambati Rayudu was injured after two games. At best, the new recruit could play two T20s. Instead, the 20-year-old played one, batting at seven. His services as makeshift keeper were not used as makeshift keeper Robin Uthappa was already in the side. Zimbabwe meanwhile, had Charles Coventry behind the stumps, who it appeared, had taken to the gloves just to stay snug. If you're not part of the Wretched Wicketkeeping Appreciation Society, this wasn't the series for you. This was the clash of the "Makeshifts".
The commentary mustered as much autonomy as one can with a sponsor's gun to its head. A mobile phone hadn't been spoken of in such glorious terms since the last Indian Premier League (IPL). There was Cycle Pure Agarbathi and then some more Cycle Pure Agarbathi - there are certain words best left unspoken by a foreigner, and even though "cycle" isn't one of them, the same cannot be said of "agarbathi". One of the bowling ends was even christened the Cycle Pure Agarbathi end. They were the sponsors, and much like any well-meaning Shylock would have, they too had their pound of flesh. So the Cycle Pure Agarbathi chief was interviewed during play: "Your first time in Zimbabwe? Will you be looking to do more with Zimbabwe cricket? Yes..." (Yes, Yes, Yes. As long as we can plaster our name all over the ground and your face, we're in) Did you cringe? Did you press mute? Did you just put the television off? Were you even watching? Oh, you did not suffer, what do you know, you are not a Zimbabwe survivor.
If Cycle Pure Agarbathi didn't get you, the title sponsor, Prayag would have. They had their quarter pounder of flesh - the Prayag boss was on air, asked the same questions, and aren't we lucky, they're looking to tango with Zimbabwe Cricket too. But nothing quite endeared me to Celkon Mobiles like that passage of play when I was informed of its features, and that some player stands to win a NEW Celkon mobile phone. What, y'kno how every player likes those Celkons from Gaffar market and Palika Bazar, yaar?
And if the sponsors didn't get me, the team selections sealed the deal. India's spinners, Bhajji Pa and Axar Patel had nailed the first four games. Bhajji's figures in the first three one day internationals (ODIs) (10 overs) - 1/46, 1/29, 2/35. And 2/29 (4 overs) in the T20 he played. So if the spinners are holding sway, why not drop one to accommodate a batsman. Enter Sanju Samson. Exit Bhajji Pa. After giving it their best shot in the first ODI, India finally lost one in the last T20.
What had the makings of a compelling series - Ajinkya Rahane as the newly appointed captain, debutants Kedar Jadhav, Sandeep Sharma, Sanju Samson and Robin Uthappa; Manoj Tiwary on a comeback; turned out to be less about the cricket and more about a sordid telecast. Just as well I unwatched most of the first match on my car radio. Rayudu's second ODI hundred and Stuart Binny's maiden half century made for a very good listen, especially in Hindi. If only I had tuned into FM for Jadhav's maiden ton. When was the last time someone from Delhi Daredevils made a mark in the national side?
Any other positives? Yes, the series is finally over. Let's watch Out of Africa.
First posted here