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India look to practice to gain perfection

india Updated: Nov 16, 2006 16:11 IST
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"Every time there is a big event here," says Soly Chauthia solemnly, his wizened face taking this very seriously, "it rains".

Just then, under astonishingly clear blue skies and with a sun that seems to have suddenly decided to show the world below just how brightly it can shine, the thought of rain seems somewhat preposterous. Even though the Eastern Cricket Union academy’s head coach should probably know what he’ talking about.

He smiles then, as if reading your thoughts. “It's forecast as 30 per cent rains, so it probably will.”

We’re sitting in the green stands of the picturesque 8,000-seater Willowmoore Park here on this hot Wednesday morning, watching the Indian cricket team — sans coach Greg Chappell who is down with food poisoning — prepare for the first game (a day-nighter against South Africa A) of what promises to be a gruelling eight-week tour.

At the moment, the players are doing something that would have to be a psychological team spirit-building exercise of some sort. God knows they need it and this one is quite funny to watch.

They are standing around in a large circle, bats in hand, waiting. One by one, each runs into the centre and mimics the batting stance/action of someone, the rest call out as to who they think it could be.

Tendulkar did a beautiful imitation of Kaif, replete with the knock-knees and the fidgety stance but it must be noted here that neither Kaif nor anyone else dared do a take-off on Tendulkar at the wicket!

Like the day before, there was a lot of banter and some horsing around before they left the main ground and went through a couple of narrow passages into the adjacent practice ground for more serious nets.

There, Chauthia’s young pace attack, all awe, awaited them and as they waited, you were reminded afresh that this was South Africa. For even while a quartet of young black pacemen sat on one side, a trio of whites stood apart chatting.

“They all play together in the same team,” says Chauthia, “there is no problem.”
There might not be, but old scars obviously die hard, for as he says, off the field, the youngsters from the townships where many blacks stay don’t exactly mix with the kids from Benoni Springs.

Even as all this byplay is going on at the sidelines, inside, it was all hard work ahead of a tour that could make or break several careers.

Dilip Vengsarkar’s selection committee has indicated it means business but whether Vengsarkar’s no-nonsense approach will actually translate into hard action would be interesting to see.

This game assumes importance for one major reason — it is the only practice game ahead of the one-dayers and as more or less every main batsman in the Indian one-day team has been out of form over a period of time, every one of them will want some time in the middle.

And though there was no announcement on who will play on the morrow, it is likely to be close to the XI that will take the field at the Wanderers on
Sunday.

Rahul Dravid will also be looking to figure out his batting combination in the absence of Yuvraj Singh and while he indicated on Tuesday that Mahendra Singh Dhoni would go up the order, the buck could pass to Mohammad Kaif or Dinesh
Mongia.

The one thing he would be fairly happy about, though, would be that with the return of Zaheer Khan, looking remarkably trim after a phase where he seemed to have become all over-bulging muscle, and Anil Kumble, whose return to one-day cricket will be avidly followed, he has lots of experience to bolster Harbhajan Singh and the young pace attack.

A good performance here against a South African team that boasts of at least 10 international caps (if all of them play, as some might figure in the domestic one-day final on Friday), many of whom are themselves looking to break into the South Africa squad, could well set the tone for the series, at least at various individual levels.

And for that, the Indians could also take inspiration from a bit of history at this ground, the first, incidentally, to have lights in South Africa.

This was where Denis Compton, one of cricket’s most colourful figures, made 300 in three hours against a hapless North-Eastern Transvaal side in 1948-49, in what was the twilight of what was undoubtedly an amazingly versatile career.

The time for piecemeal practice is past. Thursday is the final dress rehearsal and hopefully, a time for change.

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