Far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, lies the serene St. Xavier’s College ground. Located in Thumba - about 20 kilometres from the city centre - the ground is surrounded by the iconic college building, churches and a cemetery.
A huge painting of Sanju Samson - the local boy and a college alumnus - on one of the walls is hard to miss, and as one walks around the ground, the chirping sounds of the birds make it a soothing experience.
And, on this backdrop, the Indian cricket team had a long training session on Monday, ahead of its ODI World Cup warm-up fixture against The Netherlands. Though it was an optional session, most members of the squad - except captain Rohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Shreyas Iyer - sweated it out in the nets for a couple of hours, playing against local spinners.
Virat Kohli, who did not travel with the team to Thiruvananthapuram due to personal reasons and is yet to reach the city. However, given the fact that it’s a warm-up match, it needs to be seen whether the erstwhile captain finally joins the team directly in Chennai, ahead of the team’s tournament opener against Australia on October 8.
After incessant rains over the last few days, the conditions improved - allowing both India and The Netherlands to have their full-length training sessions - and before shifting base to Chennai, the Indian camp had an opportunity to get acclimatised to the hot and humid conditions - which is expected to prevail in the Tamil Nadu capital as well.
Ishan Kishan was among the first batters to walk into the nets, and over the next hour-and-a-half, he batted in tandem with Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav and KL Rahul. Some of the local Kerala U-19 and U-23 spinners were called up to bowl to the batters, while Jasprit Bumrah, too, had a long session - under the watchful eyes of bowling coach Paras Mhambrey.
However, it was Ashwin, who stole the show - first by tricking a few of his batters with his spin, and then by playing reverse sweeps while batting. The seasoned campaigner, who made it to the team as a last-minute replacement for Axar Patel, spent about twenty minutes batting in the nets and as he took the net bowlers to the cleaners, the fans - who watched the training session, sitting on the cement wall surrounding the ground - chanted his name.
In a lead-up to the tournament, Ashwin ended up playing two of the three ODIs against Australia and displayed his wide array of skills. He claimed three wickets in total and played a crucial role in India’s 2-1 win in the ODI series.
After its last game against England was washed out due to heavy rains in Guwahati, India will finally look to get some game time when it squares off against The Netherlands at the Greenfield International Stadium. There’s a forecast of rain on Tuesday as well, but both the teams will keep their fingers crossed.
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