Indian cricket may be going through a wind of change with a host of high-profile administrative exits following the spot-fixing saga, including the anticipated fall of the biggest and most high-profile of the lot, Board president N Srinivasan, on the morrow. But, for the 16 men who carry the burden of a billion hopes it was business as usual some 7,000 kilometres away.
Even as news kept trickling in all day on the happenings back home, the Men in Blue went about their work with an unwavering, unified focus. From the moment they went into their ritualised pre-match huddle to the time Dinesh Karthik knocked the winning runs, it was all about the action on the field.
Skipper MS Dhoni was his normal commanding self, marshalling his troops like general. His every wish was the foot soldiers’ command. Rohit Sharma, who was stationed at first slip when the spinners were operating, even tied the skipper’s laces when they came undone. Restricted as Dhoni’s movements were, owing to the wicket-keeping pads he had on.
The Delhi gang of Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma shared a few laughs and gags between overs. The newlywed Umesh Yadav, who arrived in town on Friday with his new bride in tow, was the only member of the 16 who didn’t get any action in the warm-up match and was the designated water boy, getting drinks during the intervals. Practice for future matrimonial bliss?
The fielding was a letdown with a glut of missed chances, skipper Dhoni and R Ashwin among the culprits. But, then, India’s fielding hasn’t been much to write home about in the best of times. They can be afforded an off day.
The fielders on the boundary ropes were also very obliging and signed autographs for the thousands of NRI fans who came to cheer the team on. Virat Kohli made a special effort at the end of the innings, to sign autographs for fans, young and old, boys and girls, and was the last man into the pavilion at the break. Dhoni as always led the way, even while leading his team off the field.
The goodwill may have paid off as Kohli went on a tear with the bat.
A cultured innings, Kohli’s 120-ball 144 included a period of over 15 overs where he didn’t hit a single boundary, and one spell where he hit 20 straight scoring shots which were singles, the streak broken by a double.
There were no doubts over the allegiance of the fans as the entrance of each Indian batsman was greeted with a huge roar, something that had been missing for most of the Sri Lankan innings, when Indian bowlers were being tonked all across the field.
Birthday boy Dinesh Karthik also had a memorable day on his return to the India setup and after his unbeaten ton was giving a standing applause and a loud Happy Birthday chant by the thousands who came for the match.