| Sourav carrying his shoes after the customs check in Auckland. (AFP)
Calcutta, Dec. 2: It’s to be seen what Shane Bond has in store, but New Zealand’s ministry of agriculture, which has a strong presence at all entry points, greeted Sourav Ganguly and Harbhajan Singh with a nasty bouncer at Auckland airport this afternoon.
Obviously not given to welcoming with aartis and garlands, the ministry personnel, who complement the customs staff, slapped a (NZ) $200 fine each on the captain and the star off-spinner.
Both, as it turned out, were carrying four pairs of used cricket footwear but, in the mandatory declaration (necessitated by bio-security concerns), each mentioned three only.
That slip-up, coupled with traces of grass on one or two pairs, was enough for a prompt fine. Just as quickly, the offending pairs were disinfected there itself.
The discrepancy in numbers, of course, was detected when the team’s baggage was scanned on arrival from Singapore and before the internal flight to Christchurch. Predictably, that delayed clearance.
“It was pure oversight, nothing more… In any case, it’s not unusual for used cricket footwear to have remains of some turf or the other,” explained Sourav, when contacted by The Telegraph at the team’s Christchurch hotel.
More tired (after three flights totalling around 17 hours) than upset, Sourav added: “What’s happened is over. Now, I’m looking to the start of the tour (with a one-dayer on Wednesday)….”
Harbhajan wasn’t available for comment, but manager Nathu Ram Choudhary said much the same thing as Sourav. “As it was a simple case of human error, we did request the authorities to waive the fine. However, they were firm on no exceptions and, for good measure, added even their Prime Minister wouldn’t be exempted. Their fear was contamination,” Choudhary remarked, speaking exclusively.
He added: “Clearly, we didn’t make it an issue. After all, where we were concerned, it wasn’t one.”
However, questions do arise: Was the team briefed about the strict regulations' Did the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) seek our high commission’s guidance on the dos and don’ts'
The answers to both are likely to be in the negative. Moreover, it just doesn’t help that the BCCI continues to steer clear (for political reasons) of appointing a full-time manager. Incredible, really.
Meanwhile, according to an agency report, New Zealand has become particularly sensitive to bio-security after the outbreak of the foot-and-mouth and the mad cow diseases. The country also dreads the “tropical fruit fly”.
Incidentally, much of Auckland is being (aerially) sprayed every morning after the “painted apple moth” sneaked in, threatening the timber industry.
For a while, at least, Sourav and Harbhajan’s cricket footwear was accorded the same (threat-to-New Zealand) status.
It’s hardly a consolation that, earlier this year, members of an Australian rugby team were similarly booked. Rather, the embarrassment will remain.