Thank heavens for small mercies. It didn’t rain. So India got Day One of their practice game against a KwaZulu Natal Invitation XI (very invitational, if the attack was anything to go by) under a beautiful blue sky. And almost all of the batsmen made the most of batting on a lovely day.
Sehwag got 40 and got out, Dravid got 38 and retired, Ganguly was unbeaten on a composed 38 at stumps and Laxman would be cursing himself for the attempted steer past point that made sure he didn’t get much. But best of all, Gambhir, who walked in at the fall of Jaffer’s wicket for a 19-ball 2, got 79 before he was called back to give someone else a chance to bat.
The Delhi batsman did very well actually, because while the bowling wasn’t spectacular or even very good, it was steady and fairly accurate — at least the pacemen were. The spinners, though, were a gift for an aggressive batsman like Gambhir, who stepped out repeatedly and took them on with ease — and the wicket was nice and bouncy.
Overall, though, this was the kind of benign attack that every batsman would want to face; but still, it must have been nice for the bats to get out there in the middle and do a different kind of practice. At stumps, India were 266 for six with Harbhajan Singh and Ganguly in (Tendulkar was here but didn’t play) but the score really doesn’t matter.
It would be a nice outing for India in another sense too, a kind of relaxing day out, where the team played some cricket, got some time in the middle and also got time together.
The mood was casual and congenial at the Northwood Crusaders Club, one of those small, family-oriented typically English clubs. The members and their families (Christmas holidays are on) dropped in for a day at the cricket, the bar opened at noon and everyone got very happy very quickly.
The ground is in a kind of bowl, with grassy slopes on all sides, is smallish but not as tiny as some club grounds can be. This, incidentally, is where Shaun Pollock grew up — his school, Northwood, is down the road (as we were excitedly told by more than a few happy people).
Obviously, stories of the Pollocks were told and re-told, with a personal favourite being the one about how Peter Pollock, once famed for his no-holds-barred speeches to all-male gatherings (you can imagine what was said and how), suddenly turned religious almost overnight and that was the end of the club's version of an "nicely raunchy Jay Leno".
The junior Pollock, though, is apparently "completely good". "Shaun can sit up all night, sing with us, tell tales but he won't touch the alcohol," said a club old-timer. "He's very religious, like his dad now."
India would be hoping that Pollock loses some of that focus ahead of the second Test. He was easily the best of the Proteas bowlers on display at the Wanderers. With Steyn hampered by injury and Ntini out of sorts, without Pollock's concentrated efforts, they looked quite another attack.
India Ist Innings: 266 for six in 77 overs (Jaffer c Govind b Frylink 2, Sehwag c Govind b Mhlongo 40, Gambhir retd 79, Dravid retd 38, VVS Laxman c Smith b McMillan 2, Ganguly batting 38, Pathan c Singh b Serme 15, Kaarthick c Govind b Frylink 12, Kumble c&b Pillay 23, Harbhajan batting 10; Frylink 2 for 44).