"Rain? What rain? We'll play in this!" Venkatesh Prasad, the Indian bowling coach, said moments after reaching the Stormont Cricket Ground. It was overcast, it was cold, the raindrops were coming in a small measure.
Within minutes, though, the trickle changed into a downpour that would have been more in place in the tropics. It was accompanied by a stiff, cold breeze, and the rain seemed to have settled comfortably for a nice session. The resolve to have nets at all costs melted, nets were cancelled with alacrity, the Indian team instead went to the gym.
It continued to rain, and the possibility that this indeed was the rain supposed to spell the end of the world, seemed rather strong.
Unbelievably, the groundsman insisted that the field would remain undamaged, the pitch would be secure under the covers and that the second ODI against South Africa would begin dot on time on Friday.
Indian captain Rahul Dravid's mood matched the weather, though — in line with his insistence that he prefers to retain his equanimity in all circumstances — he answered the same old questions from the media with calmness.
Outside, the rain beat down with grim patience and gusts of winds threatened to uproot the media tent. The Indians must have looked at the rain with mixed feelings — most of them are desperately short of practice, courtesy the mysterious flu that had run through the camp. But with many of the original 15 still not in great shape, a day in the snug gym, away from the wet and the wind, must have been very inviting. Dravid, though, rued the missed nets session.
“Agarkar and Dhoni seem to have recovered, but they've not played for a week. We'd have loved to see them at practice today, to get an idea of how they are feeling," the captain said. Dhoni's return would cheer Dravid the most, for the captain rued the absence of big hits in the final 10 overs on Tuesday.
Bad luck seems to be dogging the Indians — they must win on Friday to keep the three-match series alive, but first illness and now lack of practice have been causing concern.
The fact that India pushed South Africa to the final over in the first ODI, despite all the problems they had been hit by, gives the Indians hope. The absence of strike bowlers S. Sreesanth and Ajit Agarkar means that one of Ranadeb Bose or Ishant Sharma — originally scheduled to land ahead of the Tests — could get a look in. Sharma, incidentally, lost his kitbag on the flight and the team has been searching for shoes big enough for the gangling young paceman.
Piyush Chawla was the most successful bowler after the first two matches — despite his inexperience, he managed to expose the South African and Irish weakness against spin. Ramesh Powar has bowled well too and it would be interesting to see whether India play two spinners on Friday. But conventional wisdom and a look at the lush pitch, dark clouds would perhaps lead India to play three pacemen and one spinner. Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh would then fill in with 10 overs. South Africa have not been left untouched by flu — Gordon Templeton, the media manager, got it first, followed by Dale Steyn and spinner Thandi Tshabalala. Coach Mickey Arthur still hopes to field both of them on Friday.
Flu curse hits Gambhir
Gautam Gambhir became the latest Indian to be affected by the flu and was confined to his room. S. Sreesanth, who looked in a bad shape on Tuesday, did not show a significant improvement.
India (from): Rahul Dravid (capt), M S Dhoni, Ajit Agarkar, Ranadeb Bose, Gautam Gambhir, Sourav Ganguly, Dinesh Karthik, Zaheer Khan, Rakesh Patel, Piyush Chawla, Ramesh Powar, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Rudra Pratap Singh, S Sreesanth, Sachin Tendulkar, Robin Uthappa, Arjun Yadav, Yuvraj Singh.
South Africa: Jacques Kallis (capt), Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Hall, Justin Kemp, Charl Langeveldt, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thandi Tshabalala, Morne van Wyk.