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A funny game, this cricket

We are back to where it all began. It was here in Cape Town on February 7 that the South Africans gave the world a glimpse of a beautifully diverse culture in a spectacular opening ceremony.

india Updated: Mar 05, 2003 00:38 IST

We are back to where it all began. It was here in Cape Town on February 7 that the South Africans gave the world a glimpse of a beautifully diverse culture in a spectacular opening ceremony. The very next day, their team lost the Cup opener to the West Indies. The signs were ominous for the hosts.

For another team, from another land too, it was an inauspicious beginning. When the Indians arrived in this country, huge posters of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock stared at them from airport walls, bearing the legend: "We will send them packing; early arrivals, early exit and Polly you do the packing, we will do the rest."

Almost a month later, on Tuesday, both teams made their way into Cape Town with vastly differing fortunes. The Indians arrived with smiles and a body language reflecting minds at peace with the world. Against all odds and belying most predictions, they had rediscovered their batting and finished second in their pool.

Barely a few hours later, it was a desolate South African team that landed at the airport. Hardly anyone to greet them. Or even offer a smile.

How ironic that the same posters that appeared menacing, even threatening, before the start of the tournament, looked today, strangely out of place. Perhaps, even pathetic. An Indian journalist approached Herschelle Gibbs and wished him well. Gibbs responded by shaking hands. But the moment the journalist introduced himself, Gibbs hurried away. "Get off man, leave me alone. I am on a holiday, my Cup is over."

The holiday was forced on the South Africans by a combination of their own inept display and cruel fate. Their being knocked out of the tournament at such an early staged has shocked a nation, which, like most of the cricketing world, believed that South Africa were the only team capable of posing a challenge to the Australians juggernaut.

But when the curtain was drawn on the first phase of the tournament, South Africa did not find themselves in the top three in their pool. Again, ironically, their expected place was taken by Kenya, another African nation.

Had there been poetic justice in this world, then New Zealand too would not have finished in the top three. Despite forfeiting their match against Kenya, the Kiwis scraped past the hosts into the Super Six but could face an uphill task to make the semi-finals. Like Zimbabwe (who have 3.5 points), New Zealand go into the Super Six with very few back-up points (4) and will need to win all three matches to be certain of a semi-final berth.

England, who also forfeited their match by not going to Zimbabwe, find themselves out in the cold, as do Pakistan.

And the Indians are not complaining. Far from it. India take as many as eight points into the Super Six --- Australia go in with a maximum of 12 and Kenya, with a surprising 10 courtesy the Kiwi forfeit and a shoddy display by Lanka. The Kenyans are unlikely to do anything more than that.

Capricious fate seems to be finally smiling on India, who are scheduled to meet the African minnows in the first Super Six encounter on Friday. A win against Kenya could ensure a place in the last four stage.

For the past two days, immediately after their win against Pakistan, the Indians have decided to forget all about cricket. They moved down a gear and went into a different zone: No training, no meetings, no talk of strategy. No cricket at all.

The first night was spent in a Johannesburg nightclub, the second day lazing around the hotel and the third, sightseeing. But it's back to work and business from today. That much is clear. Straight after arriving here, the team's considerable luggage was dumped at the hotel and after a brief hiatus, the team left for Newlands ground.

"They needed to relax as they have gone through a lot in the past month. It was an unwinding process," says trainer Adrian Le Roux.

That unwinding process is now over. It is back to the grind and the system that helps the players remain in top shape. While they may be very relaxed mentally, it by no means implies they are oblivious to what lies ahead.

First Published: Mar 05, 2003 00:38 IST