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The times, they?re changed for India

It's Christmas time and signs around Team India remind you that it's the season of hope, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Dec 22, 2006 13:42 IST

The Indian team that walked off SA547 and onto the tarmac at Durban International seemed markedly different from the dazed one that had left this city a month ago. Then, there was almost total silence as a team that had been scythed through for 91 on the bounciest wicket in this country tried to come to terms with the 157-run defeat. The mood was sombre, shell-shocked.

But a month is a long time and in the time since that shellacking, India (especially the batting as the bowlers were more or less above par) have been routed in the one-day series but come back amazingly in the first Test, largely courtesy the men who weren't part of the one day scheme of things for either the Indian selectors or the team management — VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly.

On Wednesday afternoon, though, there was a sense of peace in the air as the players waltzed into the airport terminal to be greeted by a whiff of Durban hospitality — a makeshift beach scene with two bikini-clad young women lazing in lounge chairs.

A couple of weeks ago, the Indian players would probably have seen some of the media around and looked away immediately, wondering how any chance glance might be misinterpreted. Today, they just instinctively smiled like everyone else and walked on, the ones ahead waiting for everyone else to catch up.

It is Christmas week and the signs all around remind you that it is the season of hope and joy and peace and a time to be with your family as much as possible and the mood reflected that. Ganguly was busy holding on to daughter Sana, even as wife Dona laughed that the minute her father was around, she needed his complete attention.

Elsewhere, Sachin Tendulkar was quietly standing with his own family, smiling at the number of excited amateur shutterbugs who had suddenly sprung up around him.

Some of the younger players were walking in, arms slung around each other's shoulders, laughing, planning the evening.

It will be a relaxing couple of days for the Indians, at least compared to what they have gone through with the constant travelling and losing over the one-dayers and the build-up and excitement of the first Test. In the late afternoon, they were off for a run and some beach volleyball on the Eastern Cape coastline, bang outside the Elangeni Hotel here.

Even though Kingsmead looms ahead come Boxing Day, it fails to hold the same fears for India as it had before the Wanderers win. After all, the Proteas batting has looked very shaky too — enough to make India feel that the hosts might be rightly confused about what they should do next.

"We've had a bit more time to adjust to the conditions and I think we've demonstrated that we have an attack that can use those conditions," said Indian coach Greg Chappell, adding that the South Africans would be more aware of what India could do and that might change their approach at Durban.

"I just think we're that much more experienced, the younger players are that much more experienced, the senior players have addressed the issues they needed to address and we're in a better state mentally and physically to deal with it than we were last time," said Chappell, who pointed out that if the Proteas could get bowled out for 84 at the Wanderers, "they might not be looking forward to going to Durban either".

But if the South Africans go with what they say they are, aggressive under pressure, they might well decide to take the bull by the horns and back themselves to come good under familiar conditions. There are exciting times ahead, once the Christmas cheer is done.

First Published: Dec 22, 2006 12:43 IST