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India vs SA: Sun shines bright but no warm-up for Team India

cricket Updated: Dec 14, 2013 00:05 IST
Khurram Habib
Khurram Habib
Hindustan Times
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Usually the pitch where a match is to be played isn't used for practice on match days, especially when the weather is bright and pleasant.

But recent thundershowers coupled by the ordinary drainage facilities at the Willowmoore Park meant that despite the sun, the India team's two-day warm-up match against SA Invitational XI had to be abandoned due to damp patches on the outfield.

Instead, India will now practice on the centre wicket. Poor form, a hostile South African bowling attack and now with their only match practice opportunity ahead of the two Tests beginning Wednesday lost, things are getting worse for the visitors every day.

The desperation is showing. India had the option of travelling 5 to 7 minutes from the team hotel in Johannesburg to nearby Wanderers, the venue of the first Test, for training.

But such was the eagerness of wanting to spend time in the middle that the think tank decided to opt for Benoni's main wicket, some 40 minutes away from the hotel, instead of the practice wickets at Wanderers.

Hours in the middle
The Indians trained at Willowmoore's centre wicket in the morning and continued till late afternoon. They even came back after lunch.

The drainage at this venue was upgraded in 2007 but considering that Centurion and Kingsmead saw gallons of water drain away in just a few hours, Willowmoore still has a lot of catching up to do.

"It has been unusually heavy monsoon and the water is gurgling out of the ground," said Cassim Suliman, former CEO of the venue. In fact, a few days back, the approach to a shopping mall nearby was blocked due to waterlogging.

This venue has a history of rain-affected games. Just over a week back, a first class game between the Titans and the Cobras met with a similar fate. The second day was called off despite sunshine following a downpour on Day 1.

Locals say there have been instances where despite sunshine the game was affected by wet outfield. Can't really blame Cricket South Africa for choosing Benoni as a practice venue. Hosts will want to give visiting teams the least possible opportunity to adjust.

But why did BCCI agree? The original schedule given out by CSA, which had seven ODIs, two T20Is and three Tests, didn't have a warm-up game at Benoni. Instead, there was an ODI here. It was only after a curtailed schedule was prepared that this game was slotted after talks with BCCI.

BCCI's choice?
Although India have played just one international here, an ODI in 1997, some of the officials in South Africa said the BCCI has a liking for Benoni and wanted to play here.

Suliman, who still the chief of the Africa Cricket Union headquartered here, enjoys a healthy relationship with top BCCI officials and the sponsors of this stadium, the Sahara group here, also close to BCCI.