Crisp blue skies, bright sunshine, the odd cloud, rolling parks, golf courses and a metropolis caught between work and recreation were the early impressions as a taxi ferried some cricket writers to the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday. The venue that blends old-world architecture like a red-brick clubhouse and a clock tower within a modern stadium offers enough hat-tips to a bygone era.
Inside the press-box, mounted bats embossed with the late Phillip Hughes image add a sombre touch to one wall. Richie Benaud’s pathos-infused tribute to the former Australian opener, is inscribed on one willow: “A boy, just beginning...25 years of age..baggy green number 408. His father’s best mate... son, brother, fighter, friend... inspiration. Phillip Hughes, forever rest in peace, son.”
In this sporting theatre rippling with memories and milestones, India will take on the Netherlands in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup Super 12 Group 2 match on Thursday. After the euphoric high of the last-ball four-wicket victory over Pakistan at Melbourne, Rohit Sharma’s men have to quickly get on with their campaign. The squad preferred to rest on match-eve while a few had optional training earlier on Tuesday. Calming the mind and resting the limbs are equally critical in a high-stakes championship involving contests, flights, varied grounds and different time-zones.
Virat Kohli’s reiteration that the fire still burns within him, may have been the biggest take-away from the previous encounter, but there were other little triumphs too for the coaching staff to savour. Seamer Arshdeep Singh’s wickets and Hardik Pandya’s all-round effort were all part of the winning mix against Pakistan. Still a few worries linger, especially with openers Rohit and K.L. Rahul remaining tentative. Perhaps the joust against Netherlands may help these batters find their groove.
Having qualified from Group A, the Netherlands lost its Super 12 game against Bangladesh, with only three of its batters getting into double figures. India obviously is the stronger unit, but it would be prudent to remember the 2011 World Cup game involving the same rivals at Delhi, in which a modest chase got nervy before Yuvraj Singh’s unbeaten 51 helped M.S. Dhoni’s men prevail by five wickets.
Led by Scott Edwards, the Netherlands outfit may not necessarily offer the quality vibe that the football counterparts could exude at the FIFA World Cup commencing in Qatar next month. Cutting back to cricket, it has to be recognised that in a championship where former champion West Indies failed to qualify, the Netherlands is here on merit. It is a fact that India’s bowling coach Paras Mhambrey acknowledged in the pre-match press-conference.
The Netherlands will need its players to punch above their weight and key stars like Bas de Leede, who offers all-round utility, have to click. The Indian diaspora’s imprint is also felt through opener Vikramjit Singh’s presence. The face-off against India is part of the learning curve for the Netherlands while a hallowed ground gears up for a double-header as South Africa and Bangladesh are also scheduled to clash on Thursday morning.