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‘Your team is our team’

The drive from Johannesburg to SuperSport Park, Centurion, can take as little as 25 minutes and as long as 95, depending on when you’re travelling and where you’re headed.

The Freeways are as smooth as Srinath’s action, but if it’s morning, you better be headed towards Centurion; if it’s late afternoon, then from it. Otherwise, the R21 could mean Rashbehari Avenue and the N1, Narkeldanga Main Road.

Well, maybe not quite — even the car crawl seems pleasant, on an eight-lane Freeway, lined with gentle meadows and pretty-as-picture buildings. There’s no mistaking match day at the sleepy town, with streets cordoned off at every turn, CWC (Cricket World Cup) volunteers in bright purple T-shirts rushing around, securitymen in white-and-yellow jackets looking more friendly than forbidding. And if you happen to look Indian, everyone, just everyone, has to smile at you and say something, like, “Your team is doing great.... You guys can beat Australia.... Your Tendulkar is awwweesome.... Your team is our team, boss...”

Stung by Sachin

SuperSport Park, at the Corner of South and West Avenues, Centurion, is touted as “South Africa’s best-appointed ground", blending “modern facilities (blue-benched stands) with an old-fashioned feel (grassy banks)”. The Park, with 20,000 capacity, starts filling up early on Friday morning. The giant scoreboard flashes messages about mobile toilets and prayer tents, bar timings (closed from 2.30 pm to 4 pm, local time) and bee warnings (“Bee allergy, If stung, contact nearest official”).

The first ball is bowled at 10 am, but the first full-throated roar and the first wave of the Tricolour can be heard and seen at 8.54 am.

“Sachin, Sachin, Sachin, Sachin” goes the chant as the little-big Indian in white T-shirt, blue shorts, blue cap hops down the red-railing stairs, bat tucked under one arm, gloves in another. All eyes are on him as Sachin does a few half-laps of the carpet-green Park with the boys, before taking up position by a Dravid-manned stump, stroking the ball around with one hand, hitting it exactly where he wants, running the rest through the pick-up-and-throw routine. A hush then descends over the ground as the “littlest” member of the Indian team, Parthiv Patel, starts hurling the white ball at the Little Master from 18 yards.

Without his pads on, Sachin strokes it in the arc — three through an imaginary point and cover, three through cover and extra cover, three between mid-off and Parthiv, three between Parthiv and mid-on...

The accuracy amazing, the exercise effortless. As Sachin strides off the Centurion, to get into gear, a fan scribbles out a message: “Sachin Allergy, If stung, contact nearest travel agent to take you back home.”

That never made it to the giant screen.

Left, right, left

A favourite topic of discussion, in the media box and sections of the Asian stands, is that whoever wins at Centurion will go on to lift the World Cup, unless Adam Gilchrist steps in to skipper Australia! This talk has been triggered by an SMS originating, they say, from an adda somewhere in cricket trivia-crazed Calcutta. “1979, Clive Lloyd; 1983, Kapil Dev; 1987, Alan Border; 1992,Imran Khan; 1996, Arjuna Ranatunga; 1999, Steve Waugh; 2003, Sourav Ganguly” reads the not-so-short message.

The puzzle lies in the pattern — for the last 24 years, the World Cup has been passed on from a left-handed captain to a right-handed captain to a left-handed captain, without fail. And so, destiny — or maybe just pure and simple adda logic — demands that a southpaw be crowned on March 23. So, if it ain’t our Maharaj, Stephen Fleming it must be. What of bruised and battered Sanath Jayasuriya' Forget it. And warns an Aussie scribe, Ricky Pointing is good with both hands. Where, in a Calcutta nightclub'

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