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A low-key build-up to the Indian odyssey

cricket Updated: Oct 13, 2011 01:50 IST
Nilankur Das
Nilankur Das
Hindustan Times
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Had the pilot car not hooted, most on the Uppal Road leading to the stadium would not have even realised it was the Indian cricket team that was in the bus going to the ground for their first training session at home since their World Cup victory.

There were hardly any autograph hunters, forget a crowd that generally builds up outside stadiums to get a glimpse of their heroes.

Yes, the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium is outside the city proper, but then, bystanders in India are never a problem. So was it due to the drubbing the team received in England, or too much cricket or just the lack of stars in the squad for the first two one-dayers against England that get underway here from Friday?

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli were the three biggest names in the absence of Gautam Gambhir who joined his teammates only in the evening on Wednesday after playing in the Challenger Trophy in Nagpur. Here was a squad of 15 that had as many as 10 aged 25 or below who slogged it out at the nets under the watchful eyes of coach Duncan Fletcher.

The almost ritualistic football match before the real training was still there, only it was not as hard fought as it generally is. No powerful punches, no close tackles, just a gameful passing around. Dhoni did try to force the pace a bit after conceding two early goals to Praveen Kumar, but not many moved up with him. Obviously, no one wanted another name to be added to an already long list of top players sitting out due to injuries.

Raina stayed away from the football match and headed straight for the nets. He had a longish batting stint before his scheduled one when the rest of his teammates joined him outside the ground at the practice nets.

Fletcher had long individual interactive sessions with almost everyone who finished his batting. The longest were with Ajinkya Rahane, who made his one-day debut against England last month and Ravindra Jadeja. Manoj Tiwary's lofted ones off R Ashwin and the lanky Rahul Sharma got some words of encouragement from the 63-year-old Zimbabwean.

But all eyes were following a new-look Indian pace attack led by Praveen Kumar, who had missed the World Cup due to injury. Jharkhand's Varun Aaron and Vidarbha fast bowler Umesh Yadav alongside the relatively familiar R Vinay Kumar and the left-arm medium-pacer S Aravind, here after a good outing for Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Champions League, looked a spirited bunch.

But following the England players at the nets, which they skipped on Wednesday after their warm-up match last evening, there was one thing missing. The England side looked one big happy family under a very hard taskmaster in another Zimbabwean, Andy Flower.

The Indians looked a touch disjointed. Whether or not that will have a bearing when the real battle begins in two days, only time will tell.