MS Dhoni's boys landed in South Africa on Monday, hoping to improve on their splendid run in one-dayers. The three match series begins on Thursday at the Wanderers. Dhoni will take heart from the fact that just last week, Pakistan returned home with their first series win here.
The first signs of turbulence were witnessed even before the take-off. And the lead was provided by some literally 'cool' fans, who were thrilled to let some cricket stardust settle on them. It is not everyday that one gets to travel with India's young warriors, and it was a long ninehour flight to Johannesburg.
Like MS Dhoni's men, the couple of scientists too were embarking on an adventure. If the India players were thinking of the hot reception they would get from the Proteas side on the pitch, the men of science were geared up to face some frozen reality, for they were headed to Antarctica, where the fastest deliveries coming their way would be blizzards and the like as they spend the next 14 months in the ice continent.
These men in white were armed with VIP passports, but at a crowded Mumbai international airport lounge, there was no doubts who were the real dignitaries. Wherever the Men in Blue travel, they carry with them a billion dreams. That meant fellow passengers on the flight turned into a swarm of overenthusiastic fans.
The extra security personnel present whisked away the players with the importance reserved strictly for the most powerful figures in the country. That meant the humble scientists had to be content clicking pictures of three kitbags marked Chennai Super Kings – hoping at least one belonged to Dhoni - as keepsake rather than photographs with their sporting heroes.
That didn't deter them from recording the players on video cameras, something that should cheer them as they carry on further from South Africa into the frozen zone soon.
Soon the passengers filed into the aircraft, but there was an air of expectation and anxiety that India's emotional fans have for years reserved for their cricketing stars. The players were the last to enter the flight, and the pilot welcomed them on board on the PA system.
His expression of hospitality was the cue, triggering feverish activity among the passengers, leaving the flight crew dismayed. The Indian passengers went berserk, men and women, the young and the middle-aged. The flight attendants finally had to issue a warning, even guide some back to their seats.
"We're already running late. Leave the Indian team. We can't take off (otherwise)," called out an exasperated airhostess in admonishment.
The curtains were quickly drawn and lights put out in the section occupied by the cricket contingent, a polite 'Do Not Disturb' message sent to their copassengers. An island of calm had been created thousands of feet up in the air, to fans used to watching their stars from across barricades all the time.