From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.45 :: Nov. 07, 2009

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CRICKET / TOUR DIARY

Changing with the times

“I am not what I was three or four years back. Then it was less responsibility and more flair. Now there is more responsibility and you play according to the situation,” says India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Over to K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

S. SUBRAMANIUM

M. S. Dhoni... back in the groove.

October 23: The Mumbai airport is buzzing in the morning. Business travellers and families are busy with their laptops and their ‘masala chai’, quite unaware of the stars who will shortly descend amidst them.

Salman Khan walks in and perhaps the aura is too strong that people gape at him. He moves quickly through the security gates. Seconds later, actress Hema Malini and her daughters, Esha Deol and Ahana Deol, flit past. While Bollywood flickered through the airport, Mumbai’s other passion, cricket, was about to find expression soon.

M. S. Dhoni and company arrive. They are about to board a flight to Vadodara for the first One-day International of the Hero Honda Cup series. Travellers as well as airport staff scamper with bits of paper, and some whip their mobile phones out, as the clamour for autographs and photographs increases. As usual Sachin Tendulkar is the presiding deity before the ‘Men in Blue’ get into the aircraft. Landing in Vadodara, the team is whisked away while the players’ kit is loaded into mini-trucks. The team never travels light — heavy luggage and heavier expectations.

October 24: The day before the first match of the ODI series, the teams warm up and train at the Reliance Stadium. Dhoni says that a seven-match series gives a team the opportunity to come back. “You can’t just win a couple of games and think you have won the series. The other team can come back,” he says.

It is a statement that Michael Hussey echoes. The Australian adds a rider though: “Both India and Australia thrive on momentum, and in case India wins, it will gain momentum and will be on a roll. So is the case with Australia.”

October 25: The first match is on. The Australian batting looks like an impregnable fort. Tim Paine, captain Ricky Ponting, Cameron White and Michael Hussey get fifties. Chasing 292, India is down for the count but Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar do a ‘Don Quixote tilting at the windmills’ act. The crowds chant ‘Ganapati Bapa Moriya’ as the Indian tail wags furiously and Ponting seems clueless. However, the coup never happens and Australia scrapes home by four runs. India though enjoys its psychological brownie points.

“I don’t think we can bowl that bad again in the last 10 overs,” quips Ponting. The crowd boos Dhoni. “It is nothing new,” says the Indian skipper.

October 26: The teams travel to Nagpur. News trickles in about Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and James Hopes being on the injured list. A mad scramble for information ensues while in transit in Mumbai. A Cricket Australia e-mail pops up. It is a clear document with precise details about the injured trio. Copy is cleared and it is time to rush to Nagpur, chasing the cricket caravan.

October 27: The Australian coach, Tim Nielsen, speaks of the ‘scatter-bomb situation’. He is referring to the prospect of losing Lee, Johnson and Hopes ahead of the second match. “Thankfully Johnson has woken up well and he might be available,” Nielsen says with the thrill of a man who has just seen the light at the end of the tunnel.

Dhoni then walks in and as he reacts to the recent demands of former cricketers that he bat up in the order, the power snaps, the lights dim and the captain pauses. The curtains are moved aside, journalists blocking the window bend down and Dhoni smiles. The power comes and goes again. Journalists squat again and Dhoni says, “well, the concluding part of the answer is…”, and grins. Two questions on pace and spin follow, the captain refuses to take the bait. “You ask me about spin, he asks me about pace; at this rate I will have to name the 12,” Dhoni says.

October 28: The captain glitters at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium. Dhoni’s 124 sets up India’s 99-run victory over Australia and the series is level at 1-1.

The chairman of selectors, K. Srikkanth, expresses delight. “It was like the old Dhoni. What an innings! I am happy with the way the team has performed. Defeating Australia by 99 runs is no joke,” the former India captain chuckles.

Dhoni, meanwhile, attributes the victory to ‘team-effort’. “I am not what I was three or four years back. Then it was less responsibility and more flair. Now there is more responsibility and you play according to the situation,” the skipper adds.

The worry-bag is bulging for the Australians. Tim Paine has broken his finger and is flying back. “Because of the different time zones we couldn’t get in touch with the selectors yet,” says a worried Ponting.

October 29: The teams reach New Delhi. A trip to the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium brings back memories of watching Anil Kumble’s ‘Perfect Ten’ on television a decade ago. And when you walk into the Willingdon Pavilion with its memories of the Raj era, Kumble is in flight again. In a big framed photograph.

The pitch draws its share of stares. The newly laid turf had ruined batsmen’s appetite for runs during the recent Champions League games. There is a touch of surface-tension ahead of the third match. An evening ebbs away at the Press Club with generous seniors proving to be gracious hosts.

October 30: Bad news gets worse in the Australian camp. Brett Lee is out of the series with a sore elbow. Prior to that Ponting slams the wet practice pitches and gives impetus to the world of breaking-news.

“I think everybody in the world except the groundsmen knew that we were coming in at 9 a.m.,” Ponting says on seeing the watered pitches.

The ground staff, meanwhile, declare that they were not aware of the practice timings and the Delhi District Cricket Association officials get on with their job despite the embarrassment.

Dhoni says that a 220 total might prove adequate. He adds that despite the Nagpur triumph, his team will start from scratch and as the weekend arrives, all eyes are on the Kotla track.



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