It would be tough to find a more cricket-crazy city than Gwalior. On Monday, hundreds of fans thronged the airport to catch a glimpse of the players, and thousands lined up along the road leading to the team hotels just to wave at them.
On Tuesday, hordes were at the stadium even before the players had arrived for practice. Once the teams were there, the air was crackling with excitement. Such was the noise level that a passer-by would have mistaken Tuesday to be the match day.
One can imagine what the scene will be on Wednesday when South Africa play India in a must-win match, after the loss in the opening match at Jaipur, on an out-and-out batsman friendly track.
While the crowd will be relishing the prospect of witnessing a torrent of sixes and boundaries at this relatively small ground, the bowlers will be running in with a prayer on the lips.
The shorter boundaries and flattish wicket, along with the possibility of dew, might put the India think-tank in a quandary over finalizing the attack. Unlike Jaipur, where MS Dhoni thought the spinners would be the weak link, it’s the pace attack that’s giving him a headache here.
While the spinners acquitted themselves brilliantly to place India on the road to victory, the pacers almost lost the plot when they failed to stop the onslaught launched by the South African tail-enders.
“It’s not easy to bowl at the death. The bowlers are bound to go for runs, but yes, one can’t give close to 80 runs in ten overs. One needs to keep developing new skills to check batsmen in power plays and death overs,” the skipper said, hinting there wouldn’t be much change in the team composition.
There’s some good news for the hosts on the batting front. Virender Sehwag, who developed a sore back in Jaipur, did have a hit in the nets and looked comfortable. “He looked good in the nets but we will take a final call just before the match,” said Dhoni.
South Africa, on the other hand, need to sort out their batting woes if they want to stay alive in the series. They are struggling against the spinners and coach Corrie van Zyl had no problems in accepting it. “It’s actually a bit of a problem and we need to address it. But surely, it’s not a hurdle that we can’t overcome,” he said.
The visitors need to act fast, or the series could be over on Wednesday itself.