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Nov 14, 2018-Wednesday
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Rain greets Blues, but the heat will be on soon

This is the beginning of a long crusade, one that could make or break India and its World Cup ambitions, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2006 17:28 IST

Airports everywhere tend to look the same and Johannesburg is no different. There is little of the exotic or the quixotic that you expect when you think of visiting the African continent, a timeless land so often projected as one of breathless mystery, high romance and dark intrigue, where passionate feuds frequently erupt but life, for the most, is lived at an almost sedate pace.

For now, it is just like any other international city as, all thoughts of the arcane forgotten, you triumphantly beat someone to the nearest trolley and move zombie-like through the hordes to find a place near the belt just after a cheerless immigration official has declared you fit to enter South Africa. And then, as you pause for breath, you realise something is different.

The usual early-morning-at-the-airport looks around are seeming a little less spaced out and there is a buzz in the air. The Indian cricket team, blazer-less, courtesy a bumbling Board, but recognizable all the same, has finally been noticed by the milling crowd.

Fortunately, this is not India and while the atmosphere is animated, no one is particularly star-struck and the players are relaxed as they sign autographs and mingle freely while watching for their bags.

Later in the morning, Rahul Dravid would comment that perhaps this very fact — of being abroad and away from the maddening mobs of India — could be in their favour when they take on the hosts in conditions that well, suit the hosts.

"Though, apart from the subcontinent, South Africa is the only place you get recognised when you got to the mall and all, there is a certain anonymity that is welcome. It would probably help the boys to get real time off from playing, to be able to go out in the streets, be normal. It could probably reflect in the way they play."

But all this and the time for tempers, trouble and turmoil to take centrestage will come much later. This is just the beginning of a long African safari, one that could make or break this team and its World Cup ambitions.

And early morning here is blissfully tension-free, like it was on the flight from India, where the mood was mellow, set by the sight of Dravid carrying his infant son Samit up and down the aisle to soothe him.

The stresses and strains of India and the barrage of criticism this team on the edge has received since ingloriously crashing out of the Champions Trophy seem to part of a hazy past.

At the airport, there is a bit of banter and a lot of smiles, most centred around Samit. Repeatedly, he would take off the blocks with remarkable speed every time he was put down, only to be brought back by mom Vijeeta and turned over to an indulgent Sehwag, who looked the epitome of the favourite uncle as he playfully tackled the youngster, all thoughts of his negligent form and the trials ahead probably furthest from his mind.

As Harbhajan mimicked and Dinesh Kaarthick laughed with him, Tendulkar and Raina and Kaif sifted through baggage playfully, Mongia stood watching, grinning at everyone and Irfan and Munaf chatted away, it seemed a different world.

One the essence of which the Indians would probably like to capture and keep with them as they all tramped out of the terminal and into a grey, nippy morning. It rained on Monday night.

It's supposed to be summer in the southern hemisphere, but the heat is not yet fully on. That will likely come with the cricket.

First Published: Nov 14, 2006 23:55 IST