The presidential long room at the Kingsmead Stadium here offers many hints about the strong Indian connection in this bustling city.
Named after the late Krish Mackerdhuj, who bridged the racial divide and paved the way for the United Cricket Board of South Africa in the early nineties, the room with its bevy of VIPs is a virtual Indian stronghold and surnames like the Naidoos and Rams are reflected on the sepia-tinted photographs.
On Wednesday, as South Africa and India clashed in the first ODI, South Africans of Indian origin, both in the long room as well as the stands, cheered one from their ranks — Hashim Amla, besides applauding M.S. Dhoni's men.
Rooting for Indians
Tony Dayaram, a senior citizen who often rolls back the years while watching cricket, whispered: “Well my family resents this but when it is a match between India and South Africa, I cheer for India. My ancestors moved in here from Surat but I have never been to India, would love to be there someday but I am happy here in South Africa and can't imagine myself being anywhere else.”
His friend S.K. Patel quipped: “We never know when Sachin Tendulkar will get back here, whether he will ever get back. Maybe many years down the line I can say that I was there when Sachin played his last set of matches in South Africa.”
For Ali Bacher, former CEO of the South African cricket board, a fond desire is to see more cricketers emerge from the coloured and Indian populations of South Africa. “We need more Amlas and the Makhaya Ntinis. I am sure these kind of players will be found. We owe a lot to Mackerdhuj. He led the coloureds and I was part of the whites delegation when we had the historic meeting near this ground in September 1990.
“Mackerdhuj believed in the African National Congress philosophy of ‘we will not forget but we will forgive.' And that helped all of us move forward as a united body and get past the past, which was racially divisive,” Bacher said.
Praise for Hashim
Bacher, who is fondly called ‘The Legend' in cricketing circles here, rated Amla's talent and gumption highly. “He went to the Durban High School where earlier the great Barry Richards had studied. I am certain that Amla has broken all the records of Barry at school.
“When he was 15, I got a call from my Indian friends in Durban and they said, ‘hey we have a star here.' They were proved right.
“When he started out, he was perceived to be suspect against the bouncing ball but he worked on that deficiency. He may not be Sachin but he is a star in his own right.
“As for Sachin, what can I say? He is from a different planet,” said Bacher.
With 75 per cent of Indian-origin people living in the Kwazi-Natal province of which Durban is the key urban centre, Bacher expects more Amlas to emerge. “Cricket is beyond race. It is just one culture,” he said.