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Good evening, Melbourne

Light-hearted bonding, some bonhomie help Indian players loosen up before the tough series. Kadambari Murali reports.

cricket Updated: Dec 24, 2007 03:44 IST
Kadambari Murali

In the end, the bunch of Indian cricketers that trooped out of the 124-year-old Hotel Windsor on Sunday night seemed more relaxed than they were earlier in the day.

Things hadn't gone that much to their liking, with their being unable to see the wicket (covered yet again). They had nets outside, though in front of the Ponsford Stand, and much-needed catching practice. But they are well aware that this obviously isn't the best way to warm up for the first Test, barely three days away. Still, Sunday's dinner hosted by the Consul General in Melbourne — an event some players initially saw as a dreary formality — eventually turned out to be an evening that had its moments.

"There was some light-hearted stuff and the banter and laughter helped in relieving the general tension," said a player. "Having the kids (of some of the players) around is always a great stress reliever."

Another player admitted that in the run-up to Boxing Day, things could get a bit tenser. With the teams still being somewhat tentative, at least publicly, about the final eleven and the combination they would use, also makes them appear more vulnerable.

"The only good thing that, yet again, like last time, no one's giving us a realistic chance, other than those looking to bug the Aussies," he said.

Guests at the dinner said it was nice to see the players enjoy themselves after some weariness. "Initially, they seemed unsure of what to expect but opened up later," said a guest. "Like the time they were asked to put a hand up and indicate who would be the first to score a century in Australia." Well, this might not be happy news for the batsmen, that Harbhajan Singh stood up and promised to deliver.

Or when M.S. Dhoni, asked how he dealt with constant attention from unknown women, replied, tongue firmly in cheek, that as his mother had told him not to talk to strangers, he settled for their phone numbers.

A tense Dinesh Karthik later blushed and mushed about wife Nikita, Ganguly and Tendulkar's daughters put their heads together to confer, Dhoni ribbed Pathan constantly, while the star of the day, by all accounts, Laxman's infant son, cuddled up to everyone and made them very happy.

Anil Kumble's short speech of thanks, where he promised that India would do their best, was a reminder of what lay ahead. Their best might not be enough - they would have to better that to beat the Aussies in their backyard - but for the moment, all this light-hearted bonding cannot hurt at all.

Ganguly’s present
A silver salver is likely to be presented to Ganguly at the time of the Test. This was brought from India by Russel Radhakrishnan. It is being kept under lock and key at the MCG.