World Cup 2019: Men in Blue in preparation mode for opening fixture

There were the mandatory nets and fielding drills ahead of India's World Cup fixture against South Africa, but the most reassuring sight was of Virat Kohli having a hit in the morning, against throw-downs.

Virat Kohli during a practice session in Southampton on Monday.   -  AFP

Monday at the Hampshire Bowl here, provided a supreme illustration of the fickle English weather. One moment, the sun was out and a cap had to be procured. The next second, a chill breeze blew in across the port city and a sweater had to be worn. A few minutes later, tufts of dark clouds lingered low and a feathery drizzle sashayed down while correspondents sought sheltered spots or a hot cup of Assam tea inside the press-box.

Oblivious to the quirky atmospheric conditions, out there in the middle, the Men in Blue limbered up.

There were the mandatory nets and fielding drills but the most reassuring sight was of Virat Kohli having a hit in the morning, against throw-downs.   

The forward-press was emphatic, the bat stayed firm and the Indian skipper looked confident, both in his stride and shots. After suffering a bruised thumb a few days back, Kohli seemed fine. And that is good news ahead of India’s opening World Cup game against South Africa here on Wednesday.

M.S. Dhoni at the nets in Southampton on Monday.   -  AFP

 

Kohli played straight, fine-tuning his muscle-memory while the other leading lights of India’s batting line-up, buckled down for a long stint. Shikhar Dhawan was busy driving or squeezing deliveries towards an imaginary sweeper-cover and his opening partner Rohit Sharma did what he does best – mixing disdain with destruction. The spinners were lofted and some of the fast bowlers faced the heat of his blade. A massive blow sailed high and thudded into the sight-screen while a few guests at the Hilton Hotel, which interestingly is part of the venue, relished the action from their balconies.    

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Perhaps as a pointer towards the team-management’s preference for K.L. Rahul at number four, he padded up after the top troika finished its outing. M.S. Dhoni walked in with measured steps, flexing his bat, shadow-practising a few strokes before he got into his groove, flexing a few off his hips and punching on the up. And as the rest did their hard yards, Kedar Jadhav, who suffered a left-shoulder injury while playing for the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League, took it a touch easy.

Steyn, Amla turn up for training

Just as the skies cleared and sunshine lit up Hampshire Bowl on a Monday afternoon, two South African stalwarts honed their skills. Hashim Amla, who was rested from the World Cup match against Bangladesh, and spearhead Dale Steyn, nursing a shoulder injury that forced him to skip the first two games of the Proteas, tussled upon the practice pitches.

Amla, watchful in his demeanour, and Steyn, building up a steady rhythm, spent considerable time in the middle. Having faltered at the start, South Africa needs its time-tested duo to be fit in time for Wednesday’s clash against India.

 

Jadhav squared up against throw-downs and did some catching practice while the coaching staff kept a close watch. Ravindra Jadeja, lithe and ever-alert, plucked catches with ease, while some others ran with hope and caught a few. Meanwhile Dhawan, after his sprints and throws, had a chat with the ICC media team.

Among the Indian bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah, underwent a random doping test, part of the customary protocol of ICC events. The spearhead is one of the most critical components of India’s attack and would determine how far Kohli’s men would progress in the championship.

Just as the players finished their training, a lone autograph hunter tailed a retreating Kohli and got the Indian captain to sign on a poster. The ‘Bharat Army’, though, is yet to land but the fans are expected to troop in by Wednesday and there will be no dearth of colour and drama.