Dec 10, 2008

Sport - Cricket;Time for on-field action approaching

Nandita Sridhar

Chennai: Test cricket’s ability to override unforeseen challenges will be put to test when the first India-England Test match begins here at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Thursday. The Indian team — having beaten Australia 2-0 in the Test series and England 5-0 in the one-day series — takes on a side that hasn’t battled in whites in four months, and a group whose recent ambitions were stunted down to mere participation.

The resumption of the tour has so far been a strong statement in itself, but is a statement nearing the end of its course. The time will soon come when the opponent is the man from the other team, and when playing cricket is all that will be expected of the cricketers. When the lack of preparation is forthcoming in explaining glitches on the field, the decision to play — in itself — becomes the thing of the past.

Wave of goodwill

The England side is presently running on a wave of goodwill and gratitude.

The Indian team, on the other hand, hasn’t been in focus just yet. The host looks equipped to exploit a side that will face its toughest challenge when the captains walk in for the toss on Thursday, should the weather permit.

The first phase of India’s transitional period — with the retirements of Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble — will play itself out on the first day of the Test series.

Skipper M.S. Dhoni, who is known to walk on water among other things, will embark on his first complete series as skipper. The reins were handed over, quite mutedly, amid retirements and farewells last month.

Intriguing blend

Dhoni’s captaincy has been deconstructed to an elaborate form of science, which demands nothing less than a clean sweep. But besides the results in themselves, one looks forward to more of the delightfully irreverent field-settings one saw against Australia, or the unorthodoxy that balances itself with hard cold logic.

With the Indian team’s winning momentum having survived a potential halt, the chance to further push Australia will be on offer. Unlike the Englishmen, the Indians have grown used to performing within multiple layers of claustrophobia, chaos and clutter.

Most menacing

The team practised in oblivion under a thick cloud cover and a thicker security cover at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Tuesday, with the entire squad, barring Harbhajan Singh, in attendance. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, who were both exceptional against Australia, were spared the treatment that India’s potential top-six meted out to bristling local bowling talent. Yuvraj Singh, gesturing his intent with massive blows, was the most menacing of them all. Guarded closely by security personnel, the batsmen let loose in the rain-curtailed practice session.

The absence of groups clutching autograph books in fervent pursuit of stars — a charming sidelight of every practice session — was conspicuous. The complete absence of fans, the lifeblood of cricket in India, was decidedly felt, even if it was for security reasons.

In the wake of what one has witnessed recently, the passion of a cricket fan on match-days, sometimes teetering on madness, will be welcome now more than ever.

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