Pathan's tribulation

Irfan Pathan looks on during the Indian team's practice in Durban. It was a sad moment for the bowler when the team management decided to send him back home midway through the tour.-AP

Irfan Pathan's slump in bowling form is depressing. The team management sends him back home to play in the Ranji Trophy in order to help him regain form and rhythm. It's a gloomy period for the Indian all-rounder, recounts S. Dinakar in his diary.

The atmosphere was throbbing with the rhythm and beat of the dancers from the heart of Africa. The air was vibrant and suffused with energy. A friend had coaxed yours truly to a football game in Johannesburg. After the ceremonial waltz, the players impressed with surging runs and explosive shooting.

South Africa will host the 2010 football World Cup. There is much anxiety over the slump in form of Bafana Bafana, the national side. There are worries too about the rising menace of crime in the country and its potential impact on the World Cup. Much of the crime can be attributed to poverty. South Africa has first world infrastructure, but the disparity in wealth is huge.

The blacks survived the horrific days of the apartheid rule. The path to a normal, respectable life has been hard for these millions, discriminated against for ages. Many are still jobless, some resort to crime. It's a sad situation, but the root of the problem needs to be addressed.

The streets in both Johannesburg and Durban are virtually empty at night. Countless cars zip through on the roads, while hardly any person takes the sidewalks. South Africa will be under the microscope during the World Cup. A multitude of supporters from different countries will surely venture out at night. The country faces its biggest challenge.

The Indian cricketers venture out in the evenings, but cautiously. They are forever in search of good Indian restaurants. And they get lucky sometimes. But luck was not a factor during their historic Test victory at the Wanderers. There were winners and heroes. But the team fought as one. It deserved the piece of history.

The sun shone on Sourav Ganguly at the Wanderers. The Dada was back in the Indian scheme of things. Coach Greg Chappell loses little time in applauding the former India captain. A rare victory can be an elixir.

Ganguly's wife Dona tries to keep pace with her little daughter Sana. Dona, an accomplished classical dancer herself, makes eager enquiries about the music season in Chennai. Interestingly, Chennai is one of the few cities where she has not performed.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Indian selection panel, Dilip Vengsarkar, is instrumental in arranging a friendly game for the Indians. The logic behind the move cannot be faulted. There is no practice like match practice.

So, the game against the KwaZulu Natal Invitation XI. The Northwood Crusaders Park is a quaint venue on the outskirts of the city. A festive atmosphere prevails.

Munaf Patel finally sees some action. He bowls eight overs, is among the wickets. His ankle, finally, appears to be healing.

This is Christmas time too, Santa buzzes around the hotel lobby in Durban. The kids are happy. There are smiles all around, the beach is crowded and the colours are bright.

Yet, this is a gloomy period for Indian all-rounder Irfan Pathan. His slump in bowling form forces the team management to take an unprecedented step. There is a sense of shock all around as Dravid makes the announcement during the pre-Test press conference. Soon it becomes clear. Irfan Pathan will be travelling home to play in the Ranji Trophy matches in order to regain his form and rhythm. It's a sad moment.

The confusion over the young paceman, Ishant Sharma, journeying to South Africa and the conflicting statements do not present Indian cricket in favourable light. The lack of communication is baffling.

The Durban sky is mostly grey. In the gloomy light, India slumps to a spineless defeat in the second Test. Suddenly, the Wanderers is like a hazy memory.