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India chill out in Belfast

cricket Updated: Jun 22, 2007 18:36 IST
Rohit Mahajan
Rohit Mahajan
Hindustan Times
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The chill and the mist of Belfast greeted the Indian team on Wednesday morning. Suitably braced by the cold, stinging air, the weariness of the journey thrown off quickly, the team management decided that a spot of nets in the ground would do them no harm.

Indeed, it would have done the team only good, for their formidable foes over the next few days in the Northern Ireland capital are the South Africans, who drubbed India in the ODI series in South Africa last year. The team requested a special session at the Stormont ground from 5 pm. Off to the ground, then.

The Stormont itself looks rather small, ringed by temporary seating, close to massive buildings from where the machinery of the Irish government works.

The ground is bustling with activity, last-minute preparations are on, people are laying down cables, counting crates of water bottles, unloading equipment from trucks. The field looks rather damp, and it's clear that a slip here would not be too welcome.

However, the Belfast weather, famously whimsical — people tell you that you can have four seasons in a single day here — seemed to settle the matter. With intermittent rains lashing the city right through the afternoon, practice was cancelled and one look at the ground was deemed sufficient.

Back at the Hilton, the Indians are relaxing after the journey. The lobby is refreshingly deserted, there are no cameras waiting to capture even the smallest glimpse of the team, no one dogging their footsteps.

"It is going to be a big challenge, and we are looking forward to playing South Africa here over the next few days," Indian captain Rahul Dravid told HT on Wednesday evening.

"This is obviously the first time we are going to play here and everyone is excited," he added, even as the wind howled outside and rains lashed the city.

All this is indeed ominous, certainly not good news for the Indians — more of the same is predicted for Thursday, when the team has its first official nets session; they would be very keen to get used to the ground conditions, as it were.

The conditions in the city, though, are just perfect, only if the rain were to stop. The Belfast of yore, in news always for bad reasons, is gone. Locals will assure you that the problems are over, peace reigns and that it is safe to travel at any time of the day. They assure you that by tomorrow, the celebrated good cheer of the Irish would have overwhelmed you.

The Indian team would hope to taste some of it, and give South Africa a taste of their own medicine over the next few days. The SA team, who was set to fly from Jo'burg to London late on Wednesday, are scheduled to be here by Thursday noon. The action begins then, in right earnest.