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Sourav-less India make Eden debut

Stage is set for a thrilling contest between India and SA at the Eden today, writes Dhiman Sarkar.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2005 04:59 IST

Four days before the backroom boys get their 15 seconds of fame, the real thing. Under the shadow of a Maharaj forced into abdication and our cricket caught between change and continuity, India and South Africa will try to light up the Eden on Friday.

Greg Chappell may not agree about the change and continuity bit though. No one booed him and he even waved and smiled at those who had gathered to watch India train in the afternoon. But convinced that the old order was rapidly ageing, he has plunged head first into reshaping Team India. All those who can't lend a hand have had to get out (read: play domestic cricket). On Mission 2007, continuity through change seems to be his current mantra.

Don't try predicting batting orders but from the emphasis on youth to a batting-cum-fielding drill where the coach bowls underarm, there are a lot of things about Rahul Dravid's team that look different. And we are not just talking about Irfan Pathan's batting, the Indian fielding or a sledgehammer-cum-Shahid Afridi called MS Dhoni.

Graeme Smith also thinks they look a lot happier. "There's a lot of youth and this has led to an extra bit of energy around them," he said, after three hours of nets, when asked if there was anything different about his opponents from those he played Tests against last year.

Aiming to become the first South African skipper to win an ODI series in India, Smith though, didn't agree that the momentum is with the hosts.

The winds of change in our cricket aren't restricted only to the team. The clamour for a new administrative order is growing but the satrap whose writ still runs Indian cricket isn't giving up without a fight. So, post-Friday, Kolkata will gear up for a boardroom battle: one where change challenges continuity.

But even with the scheduled arrival here of a former election commissioner-turned-observer on Friday, the spotlight for that night will hopefully be on the players.

The watershed in Chennai has led to the series being evenly poised. Smith is looking at the remaining matches as "two massive finals" and is convinced that Friday's game will be a "humdinger". It is, however, amazing that the venue where South Africa were re-admitted into international cricket on a November morning 14 years ago has hosted them only once more in an ODI.

That was in the Hero Cup semi-final in 1993 and Sachin Tendulkar the bowler had shone brightest when the lights came on for the first time at the Eden.

"This venue is a special place for people in South Africa for it led to the rebirth of a nation. This is a rainbow team, part of that new culture," Smith said. That India haven't won one-dayers here since 2002 is a piece of statistic South Africa wouldn't mind pointing out.

Winter evenings in Kolkata are known to get their dew and to that end, both Dravid and Smith said the toss would be crucial. The pitch is new and could have some bounce and that should be good news for the batsmen. The bowlers will have to stay disciplined in the way Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan were not (they shared three wickets between them) when young Salman Butt took charge last year.

Both teams have their full complement of players fit and available but won't announce their XII till Friday afternoon. Denied in Chennai, Tendulkar should finally become the most-capped one-day player ever. He averages 60.75 here and got a century the last time India won here. Tendulkar also shared the Man-of-the-Match award with Allan Donald when South Africa first came calling. In an era of change, he is Indian cricket's present continuous.

They were showing Tendulkar's innings against Pakistan at Centurion while trying to get the giant screen right here. Here's hoping that in the year of Sachin Dev Burman's birth centenary, his namesake would produce a masterpiece to celebrate a historic moment.

First Published: Nov 25, 2005 01:06 IST