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Rain may play spoilsport again

Weather permitting, both India and SA are desperate to play and prove a point, reports Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2006 04:26 IST

Reports from this tour are rapidly descending into one long weather analysis and unfortunately, it looks like this second Indian vs South Africa one-dayer, now the series opener after the day-nighter at the Wanderers was washed out, may well be more of the same.

As things stand, there is a 70 per cent chance of showers. And if Monday night, a magnificent, flashy, stormy spectacle, that nonetheless, would have warmed the hearts of no one connected to the cricket, was a portent of things to come, then there’s heavy weather ahead and it has nothing to do with how the Indian team is playing its cricket.

At the moment, you would have to sympathise with both sets of players, Indian and South African, because nothing probably is more irritating than being all pepped up for a game and having to end up aimlessly watching the skies instead. South African coach Mickey Arthur said as much on Tuesday afternoon, when he remarked that it could get to the players after a point.

“To be honest, it is frustrating, there is a lot of pent up energy and we need to play to release it. We just seem to be going from net practice to net practice and that is why we kept this one light. We finished all our final preparations for the game yesterday (Monday) and don’t want practice to get monotonous,” said Arthur, smiling rather wryly.

At least he’s finished with the final preps; of India, one is not as sure. Rahul Dravid remarked a couple of days ago in passing that “nets are never enough” and in India’s case, that is probably true. While South Africa are set enough in their combination to be able to release Boeta Dippenaar to turn out for the Diamond Eagles against the Titans for the start of the domestic Supersport (four-day games) series, India are still struggling to get their act together this season.

And whether they will be able to do that in the Sahara Stadium here, weather permitting, is debatable. After all, this is one place where the toss is going to matter a lot — no one will probably want to bat second and if someone does make that decision, it would be a very interesting one.

Kingsmead, probably South Africa’s most lively wicket, is expected to be the one that will probably trouble India the most during the Test series next month and this now will probably be more of a problem, even without the expected cloud cover. It is traditionally tougher to bat at night here with the ball expected to both swing and seam quite a lot in the evening. But given the weather conditions, it will not be easy batting first either — all in all, a bit of a mess from an Indian perspective.

More than a few of the Indians probably had near heart attacks when they first saw the wicket — there is more than a tinge of grass on it at the moment — but it is largely expected to be shorn off. The Proteas, for all their repeated assertions (rightly so) of being completely confident at home, would not want to chance an embarrassing loss either.

And given that most people are putting them as runaway favourites for this series, and despite them being so often described as a coldly professional unit, they would have to be inhuman to not feel the pressure to triumph at home in a season ending with the World Cup. Dravid, meanwhile, refused to react to Arthur’s implying that India needed to get themselves sorted out against pace to do well here, only saying that there were a couple of batsmen in his side who had done very well against pace not just in SA but around the world.

Well, those couple of batsmen will just have to fire then, pressure be damned, and, will have to be backed up by the rest. They cannot afford to let themselves go now.

Dravid said as much. “There should always be pressure to perform as an international player. You have to perform, you cannot afford to let the weight of expectations that contribute to that pressure, get to you. And at the end of the day, it is something that inspires you.” Come Wednesday, India would be hoping that their captain wasn’t just speaking for himself.