A wet and cloudy Johannesburg had greeted the Indian team on Sunday on their arrival from their training station – Cape Town.
Monday, too, remained shrouded under dark and thick clouds, with intermittent showers worsening the situation further, until a little after noon when the clouds disappeared and the sun came out in all its brightness as the Indian team hit the nets at Centurion – the venue for the first Test, allowing the onlookers a peep into their preparedness for battle.
The theme of the practice session appeared the same as it had been in Gary Kirsten’s laboratory — his academy in Cape Town — where he reportedly produced the conditions the Indians are likely to encounter in the Test series. The coach banged in short-of-length deliveries to batsman after batsman, making them to either leave the ball, or go fully behind it.
“We have had good training sessions at Cape Town and are ready and relaxed for the upcoming test,” said India skipper MS Dhoni.
Even as Kirsten is getting the team ready in his unique way, India’s preparations, especially not playing a tour game, has already set a few tongues wagging.
Kepler Wessels, who captained South Africa during India’s first tour to South Africa in 1992-93, fired the first salvo a few days ago. “You can have as many net sessions as you like, it isn’t going to make any difference. The only thing that matters is game time, and I’m surprised the Indians didn’t organise a tour game instead,” he said.
And he wouldn’t be alone to have misgivings on this count.
Conventional wisdom suggests there’s no better way to get used to the conditions other than practice matches, especially in alien conditions. One might succeed in creating the match-like conditions, but the feel and pressure of a match situation can’t be replicated in the nets.
But then, as South Africa paceman Albie Morkel said, Kirsten knows what he’s doing. “He knows what it will take to get the better of South Africa. He’s working on specific areas, and that may not have been possible while playing practice matches,” he said.
Former India paceman Madan Lal throws in a different perspective.
“The alien conditions aren’t as big a factor now as it used to be. Teams today travel around the year and are well aware of the conditions.
Players in this particular team have been to South Africa many time now,” he said. You are just a few days away form finding out who’s got it right.