It remains to be seen whether India will play in South Africa in two big fixtures during the festive season. Photo: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Twenty-five years is a long time and we are learning that not all friendships have the capacity to survive for that long.

On and off the cricket field, South Africa and India used to be the best of pals.

When Pakistan’s 1991 tour of India was compromised at the last minute, India were only too happy to bring Ali Bacher and his hastily assembled team over.

“Here, meet Mother Teresa. Come, see the Taj Mahal,” they said. Everything and anything was possible, to borrow an Indian idiom.

South Africa responded in kind, with the Friendship Series on Rainbow Nation soil. They looked set to be besties forever, these nations that shared so many traits and tastes. How things have changed.

Cricket South Africa have made reservations in Durban and Cape Town, in prime season, but they are yet to secure a date who will dance with them.

Their preferred dance partner, India, have declared an intention to arrive in January, and demand a couple of warm-up games. To hell with the plum fixtures in Durban and Cape Town. To hell.

It’s a precarious position, especially as the cricket powers in South Africa maintain that, from 2017 onwards, the home international season will always start with the Boxing Day Test.

The stance taken by India, cricket’s most calculating calendar bullies, is a significant spanner in the works. But, they act this way because they can.

Lest we forget, India only confirmed their participation at the Champions Trophy at the 11th hour. Because they can. The Board of Control for Cricket in India like to flex their muscles and, by turning their nose up at South Africa’s itinerary, they know that they have left their rivals up crap creek, at a time of year that ought to be bountiful.

With all these T20 roadshows mushrooming around the world, the five-day stuff is in real danger.

The farce that is the West Indies Test team emphasises this. Test-tube team, more like. You can hear the pain in Michael Holding’s voice as he observes the whole mess at close quarters.

Proper Test cricket has become a delicacy, one served up between a select few teams. Which is why South Africa were literally banking on India being the main attraction, followed by Australia in February.

That spread of cricket fare would be surely appetising enough to lure even the staunchest T20 addict; real contests, between three of the big four.

Alas, in India’s world, there is no big four. Heck, it isn’t even a big three. In their world, their palace of television billions and a captive, home audience that is obsessed with just their chosen few, only they exist at the top table.

And so, they now pick and choose their way through the international schedule. Because they can.

You didn’t see a single Indian name in the T20 Global League player draft, and you can bank on not ever seeing it.

India now observe South African cricket with a cynical eye, and the one matter that still intrigues them is to try and conquer the Proteas on home soil.

Ravi Ashwin still bristles at the punishment meted out to him on SA pitches. India’s management still maintain that preparing fast pitches against them is on a par with the dust bowls they served up in 2015 to South Africa.

The current number one Test team believe that the former world leaders are vulnerable, even on those hard, fast tracks, and they see the 2018 series as an ideal opportunity to make history. Don’t bank on seeing them coming back anytime soon if they scale that personal Everest.

Their priorities will change, and they will have even less reason to frequent these parts. So, enjoy them while they are here, because they will soon prioritise new friends to play with. Because they can.

Sunday Independent