Terror strikes could not scare them away and the rain gods appear to have been appeased. Cricket, it seems, finally has a chance to claim the stage that it would have usually occupied on the eve of a successful Indian team taking on a full-strength England in a Test. But the need of the hour is for a passage of play so riveting that we can stop counting the commandos in the stands and weigh wickets against runs.
Life has moved on since the November terror strikes: after all, those that survive have little choice but to get on with the business of living. It is the manner in which people live the rest of their lives that will determine whether the Mumbai attacks were indeed a defining moment in the way cricket will be consumed in this country.
Ultimately cricket is a sport, entertainment, and the two stakeholders who matter the most are the players and the fans. And for the game to be healthy the players must be given an environment in which they can give their best. When play begins Thursday, the real test for the players will not be how human they are, but rather how well they can shut out issues that do not directly affect the hurling of a ball or the wielding of a bat.
Can Steve Harmison, uncomfortable away from home at the best of times, find his mark even as he is in the cross-hairs of rooftop snipers who guard the ground? Can Sachin Tendulkar add a 41st Test hundred to his bag, perhaps score one for his beloved Mumbai, without thinking about this and getting emotional?
For India, the challenge is to somehow summon the intensity of the recent Australia series. “Of course we need to be at the same level. It does not matter which opposition we are playing. You have to be aggressive in international cricket and it has to be controlled,” said Dhoni.
But against Australia, some bitterness, allegations or infractions by one side or the other and the retirement of two stalwarts kept the kettle boiling.
Yet India need look no further than England’s XI to get their competitive juices flowing.
The towering presence of Andrew Flintoff gives KP the luxury of going in with two quicks in Harmison and James Anderson while not sacrificing spin, with debutant offie Graeme Swann supporting Monty Panesar. If Flintoff’s ankle holds, the long spells the all-rounder bowls could give his captain the control that Australia so sorely lacked.
If England are light, it is in the batting, and Matt Prior and Swann will both have to contribute with Flintoff batting perhaps one spot too high at No. 6.
But England bring a balanced team to the middle as India take their first steps in the post-Kumble-Ganguly era. Come to Chepauk if you can, and get a seat, if not, turn on your TV sets, as that is what you can do as a fan to show that life does go on. The players are ready to do their bit.