The 10-minute city

Legends Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar indulge in cricket talk.-AP

Cape Town has great natural beauty, while Port Elizabeth has an unmistakable English influence. Here's another instalment of S. Dinakar's Diary.

The cricket caravan moves to Africa's southern tip. The drive from the airport to the heart of Cape Town, down an inviting stretch of road lined by palm trees, is a pleasing experience.

Cape Town has character and history. It is also beautiful with the sea engaging in conversations with the mountains. Clouds circle the mountains, the beachfront is bathed in sunlight. Cape Town has been blessed by nature.

It also has one of cricket's great venues — the Newlands. The imposing Table Mountain forms a fascinating backdrop to the ground. The sight has inspired some immortal cricket tales.

The Indians had been battered and bruised at Kingsmead. The start is not auspicious at Newlands either when their practice session is disrupted by rain. Inclement weather and defeats seem to be following the team everywhere. The Indians are forced to train indoors at the Cape Town University. The news on the injury front too is not good. Munaf Patel has fitness concerns.

In the evening, coach Greg Chappell recollects some tales from the past. This one relates to a largely fruitless tour of Pakistan under Chappell's captaincy.

Pace spearhead Dennis Lillee is frustrated by the wickets. He is also annoyed with Javed Miandad, who had said a thing or two to the fast bowler. Unexpectedly, Lillee, off a shortened run-up, prepares to bowl spin, or so it seems.

Shouts Chappell from the slips — "Mate, what are you trying to bowl?" Lillee, his temper close to boiling over, replies — "You will find out." Chappell strains his vocal chords again — "You better tell me because a wicket-keeper standing back, three slips and a gully is not quite the right field for what you may be trying to bowl!" The skipper's words settle the argument. Lillee relents. Meanwhile, clouds give way to sunshine in Cape Town. The Indians, finally, have a full practice session at Newlands. There is also a rather special moment. Sunil Gavaskar walks up to Sachin Tendulkar during nets and the two talk cricket. This is, truly, a meeting of legends.

An ugly meeting follows the next day. South African captain Graeme Smith and the chief of the selection panel, Haroon Lorgat, have a public spat on the ground, minutes before the toss.

Smith is convinced that in-form paceman Andre Nel has recovered sufficiently from a finger injury. Lorgat does not quite agree. He wants all-rounder Andrew Hall to get a game. Lorgat prevails and Hall is involved in a match-winning partnership with the big-hitting Justin Kemp. The selection chief is proved right. There has been much debate about the selection process in this country. But the colour of the skin is not an issue here — both Nel and Hall are white.

There is much depth in South African cricket. Lance Klusener plays a hurricane innings in domestic cricket. The Zulu slams eight fours in an unbeaten 11-ball cameo; seven of his boundaries are off a single over that includes a no-ball! Still, there is no place for this explosive cricketer in the South African side. He has had run-ins with Smith in the past and differences with a forceful skipper do not help.

Younger all-rounders, Albie Morkel and Johan van der Wath, are pushing hard. Have we seen the last of Klusener in international cricket? He is still enormously popular. Is it right to end a career when the cricketer in question still has so much more to offer? Some food for thought.

Mercifully, the quality of vegetarian food is better at the venue. There are a couple of more options.

The Indians seem to be running out of options, though. And there is hardly time to regroup. A One-day series can be hard on mind and body.

The hectic schedules are not easy on the journalists either. As we alight from the aircraft at the next stop, the wind almost knocks us over. Welcome to Port Elizabeth! This is a charming city of sea, sun and surfing. And, of course, the wind. Bistros and pubs line the beaches, and tourists abound. You can also see giant carriers at the port.

The city has a strong English influence; you can see this in the architecture of the libraries and the churches. Some of the earliest settlers from Old Blighty landed here. They have left their imprints.

The Indians cannot quite enjoy the city's soothing influence. Media manager Rajan Nair breaks the news that skipper Rahul Dravid is out of the ODI series with a broken finger. For Team India, this has been a jinxed campaign. There is some bold talk from stand-in skipper Virender Sehwag ahead of the game. But the Indians succumb tamely yet again. The ODI series has been decided. The South Africans celebrate.

Incidentally, yours truly has a narrow escape when a six from Hall enters the press box, missing the right ear by a whisker! Actor Shekar Suman has a question — "Did you say anything to Hall on the morning of the match?" Port Elizabeth is called the 10-minute city. The roads are generally free of heavy traffic and places are within easy reach. But then, the Indians had run into a road-block of their own making.