When not a ball was bowled

Published : Nov 17, 2001 00:00 IST


OCTOBER 31: Chatsworth, where a three-day match against the South Africa President's XI was washed out, was not the first bad experience for an Indian cricket team. Four years ago an Indian team under Mohammed Azharuddin spent more than a week by a seaside hotel in Galle, Sri Lanka, with no possibility of play owing to inclement weather. Coach Aunshman Gaekwad and Azharuddin made a visit to the ground everyday because protocol demanded it, but the rest of the team members stayed put in the hotel for a week, playing waterpolo and going through the routine exercises, including running on sand under the supervision of the then physiotherapist, Andrew Kokinos. A visit to the Taj Exotica was perhaps the best outing they had.

The South African experience was off-putting for the Indians. They were keen to play the three-day match and get batting practice against medium-pacers Charl Langeveldt, Justin Kemp, David Terbrugge and Albie Morkel. They were also keen to see whether leftarm seamers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra were match-fit or not.

The news at 7-30 a.m. on all the three days was ditto. No possibility of the match starting at 10 a.m. At noon the news from manager M. K. Bhargava was the same. No match. The umpires were good in a way. They kept the 'injury factor' in mind and did not want the Indians to risk playing on a slippery outfield. The South Africa President's XI captain Adam Bacher was sure on the first day itself that the match could not be played at the Chatsworth Oval. The Indians, too, held the same opinion. So the only option they had was training and practising at Kingsmead, before leaving for Bloemfontein on November 1. The Indians in Chatsworth are disappointed and why not. They missed a chance to see batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly in action.

Bhargava tells the Indian press about Rahul Dravid's injury. The orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jo de Beer is categorical that Dravid's shoulder would need repair at some point of time in the future. Dravid, he confirmed had a malfunctioning shoulder because of a lesion related problem. The team management's official version was that Dravid would play the first Test in Bloemfontein.

November 1: SOWETO is in the news again. The South West Township, about an hour's drive in peak hour traffic from Johannesburg, is the place where nearly 500 people attend the gala official launch of the 2003 World Cup to be held in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. The International Cricket Council (ICC) Chief Executive, Malcolm Speed, has specially flown in from London. The others who attended the function were the Presidents of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, Peter Chingoka and the Kenya Cricket Association, Harilal Shah.

Percy Sonn, President, United Cricket Board South Africa, Speed and Ali Bacher, Executive Director, Organising Committee, 2003 World Cup, South Africa spoke on the occasion. South Africa's Minister of Sports, Ngonde Balfour, who makes as much news as India's Uma Bharati, is also there, but only to unfurl the World Cup flag at the SOWETO Oval and not to make a speech.

The highlight of the programme, conducted in a place with a unique roof - the erection of which alone cost 400,000 rands - is the unveiling of the logo and the mascot. In a superb presentation by Ms. Karen Ashwin, who said she had a very Indian surname, the zebra striped geometrical pattern with an orange flame, is notified as the official logo. The mascot designed by Nathan Reddy, too, is unveiled.

At the same function South Africa's Post Office Chief Executive Officer, Maanda Manayatshe released a commemorative series of 13 stamps. Hundreds of black children, invited for a cricket clinic, took part in the flag-hoisting ceremony. The function, with a predominantly African theme, ends with a skit show which explains how the white zebra got its stripes.

November 2: At the Goodyear Park, in Bloemfontein, even as the team management is engaged in serious discussions about the composition of the team, Harbhajan Singh informs them that he is feeling feverish. Bhargava comes down from the players' change room to say that Harbhajan is complaining of a groin problem. He is not included in the XI. Later the manager informs the press that Harbhajan is suffering from an 'infection of the epididymis'. When asked what 'epididymis' is Bhargava says, 'There is no word for a layman to understand this."

The Indians are lucky that Ashish Nehra, prone to injuries and frequent breakdowns, has recovered in time to be ruled fit for the first Test. He fell while bowling in the nets, but, fortunately, was not injured. Then Sameer Dighe, specially flown in for the Test series, suffers a serious back muscle pull 20 minutes before the toss. His place is taken by Deep Dasgupta. Fate indeed does strange things.

November 3: Bloemfontein is the home State of many famous names in South African cricket, apart from it being a stronghold of Afrikaans culture and politics. The people here are nostalgic about the performances of the past players. Like many cricket associations in the world, there are some in India too, the Free State Cricket Union (the prefix Orange has been removed because it did not go down well with the new order in South Africa) has lined up the walls in its conference room with portraits of cricketers who have done yeoman service to the State.

The true to life portraits add to the ambience of the room, which is also converted into a dining hall for the media and special invitees and the officials of the Free State Cricket Union.

November 4: Sunday being a holiday there are only a few spectators at the Goodyear Park. Among the handful of Indians are the Johannesburg-based couple in Kapila, who is a doctor and Hari, a Chartered Accountant. The amazing thing about them is that they simply cannot stay at home when an Indian cricket team is touring. In fact, the two must have logged an impressive number of Tests and one-day internationals. They already have in hand the itinerary of the Indian team in the West Indies (March 8 to May 26) and afterwards in England. The Indians will be out of India for 170 days for these two tours. Then will come the ICC knockout in Australia and probably a short tour to New Zealand. Sure enough Kapila and Hari will be there.

They are happy that they have been seen on television by the relatives in England, India (Gujarat) and friends in other cricket nations of the world. "We have to do our work, but cricket, especially Indian cricket is too, tempting to miss," said Hari on the second day of the first Test in Bloemfontein. "We are going to be at Port Elizabeth for the first three days. Centurion is not far away from our home."

Ravi Shastri said a visit to the 'News Cafe' at the Waterfront is a must. He was not far off the mark. The three South African batsmen - Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs and Neil McKenzie - too popped in at 8 p.m. for a couple of bottles of beer and then dinner. It was a day when Gibbs had scored a rollicking century, Kirsten 73 and McKenzie 68. Not one person in the Cafe approached them for their autograph. And nobody greeted them apart from the girls who took the orders. Could this have happened in India? They would have been mobbed.

November 5: It is another day of engaging cricket. India bounces back through splendid spells by Javagal Srinath. He did not like one bit being accused of picking and choosing to play matches of India. After a poor spell in the opening match of the tri-series against South Africa, Srinath has strained every sinew and remained the mainstay of the Indian attack. In the absence of Harbhajan Singh, he and Anil Kumble had to take the additional load and also the responsibility. Kumble, in his comeback match, bowled 50 overs in the first innings. Srinath ended with five wickets and Kumble three, which shows that India's bowling largely hinges on the abilities of Srinath and Kumble.

November 6: Santa Claus has already arrived in the main streets of Bloemfontein to rev up the Yuletide spirit. One of the main streets running parallel to the Goodyear Park venues of cricket and rugby was festooned with buntings of 'Father Christmas'. Merry Christmas is still a good 50 days away, but according to the people here it has been a tradition in Bloemfontein to start celebrating at the first signs of a balmy summer. Obviously, Shaun Pollock and his team are satisfied with the way things went for them at the Goodyear Park, where they beat India by 9 wickets to take a 1-0 lead in the Test series. Well, Santa Claus was not far away actually.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment