Tendulkar-less India soldier on
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (AP)
Cape Town - Sachin Tendulkar's tearful farewell in front of an adoring home crowd put a damper on this month's series between the two best Test cricket teams in the world.
The game's politics have also had a role in undermining it.
India's first challenge in the post-Tendulkar era is a two-Test away series against top-ranked South Africa, but it was initially planned as a three-match contest between the five-day format's leading teams.
Tendulkar's 200th match was also going to form part of the contest and was initially planned for Cape Town and not Mumbai.
Instead, India's desire to give the world's most worshipped player his tribute at home led to a re-jigging of the schedule.
While India got to celebrate Tendulkar's career last month, South Africa had matches wiped off its international calendar and was left with a cricket-less January.
India's squad, which landed in Johannesburg on Monday without the world's most prolific run-scorer, would have been forgiven for just arriving late because of Tendulkar's retirement, with his masterful batting feats appreciated by fans everywhere.
But the Board of Control for Cricket in India's subsequent decision that its players would also leave early has left a particularly bad taste in South Africa.
The BCCI's decision to not just delay but cut the tour from two Twenty20s, seven one-day internationals and three Tests over two months to just three ODIs and two Tests — the bare minimum — was seen as a poorly-disguised punishment for South Africa appointing former ICC head Haroon Lorgat as its new chief executive.
India's BCCI has a history of run-ins with Lorgat and the South African official also withdrew from playing any role in the curtailed India tour to make sure it went ahead at all.
The short series still promises an engrossing battle between South Africa's fierce fast bowlers and India's gifted batsmen, and millions wait to see who will be picked in Tendulkar's spot at No. 4 in India's batting line-up in the first Test in Johannesburg starting December 18, replacing an irreplaceable player.
For the first time since 1989, India will play with the "Little Master" no longer a part of its national setup, and the tour is "a new start" for India, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said.
"We don't know who will be batting at No. 4 but there is no replacing the individual (Tendulkar)," Dhoni said at a news conference before leaving India for South Africa.
"Overall, I think it will be an exciting series and there are exciting players in both sides.
"It looks like it will be an interesting series."
But it's also a short one.
With just two Tests in Johannesburg and Durban, India will be gone before the new year without playing South Africa's marquee match at Cape Town's historic Newlands, which has gone from hosting Tendulkar's historic 200th Test to no games at all on the tour.