| Graeme Smith
Calcutta: At every nook and corner of Eden Gardens, in every action related to Friday’s day-night affair, that man who not many months ago typified the resurgence of Team India, was omnipresent.
Times have changed. This is the age of Team Chappell. As the men in blue entered the ground for practice on Thursday afternoon, for the fourth game of the Pepsi Cup, footage of India’s 2003 World Cup match against Pakistan popped up on the small screen inside the stadium.
The sight of Sourav Ganguly leading the team against Wasim Akram & Co. was a reminder of the general who had guided his unit to the final of the showpiece competition.
That was past, and Friday represents a new challenge, a new mission, a new thrust towards excellence.
For nearly fours hours, Rahul Dravid and his boys sweated it out, and surely, that sight on the screen must have caught somebody’s eyes in the middle. In the Chappell era, those eyes show a different resolve and are too focussed on a drive to take the lead against the Proteas in the series to search for anything else.
It’s 1-1 with two matches to go, so a win on Friday will mean a position from where the series can’t be lost. This is a new Team India, they have no time to look back.
Kiran More must be way up the list of the most-hated people in this part of the country. But the former wicketkeeper, and now the chairman of selection committee, couldn’t care less about all the brouhaha over his role in Sourav’s omission from ODIs and axing as Test captain. Instead, he attended the Indian nets, helping Mahendra Singh Dhoni with his workout.
This is the new Team India, where everybody associated with it has a role to play.
All through the long practice session, everybody darted around, emitting an air of immeasurable energy, under the close vigil of the Australian. Add to this the fact that Rudra Pratap Singh and S. Sreesanth came to the batting nets before the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag.
This is the new Team India where one can expect only the unexpected.
Graeme Smith, the opposition leader, was also heard singing an Indian tune: “They (India) seem a lot happier' gelling quite nicely. A lot of youth is now in the team and this injection of youth means a little bit of energy out there.”
This is the new India, hailed by the rivals as well.
Both India and South Africa refused to name the playing line-up, with the crucial dew factor causing concern in the two camps. Toss, thus, is going to play a crucial role.
Incidentally, South Africa are planning to have another practice session on Friday morning, before settling for the XII.
The Indian camp is apparently not happy with the greenish look of the wicket. Smith even wondered if the grass won’t be cut before the match.
Smith, however, has a different agenda on his mind. “Our main goal is to win an ODI series for the first time in India' We are looking at the next matches as two massive finals,” he said. The disappointment of ending their unbeaten streak on the threshold of a record must have added fuel to this mission.
Dravid felt that the Bangalore triumph had not given his team any momentum. “It’s a fresh challenge altogether. You may be on the crest of a wave and winning helps create a team spirit. But there’s no real magic mantra behind this,” he maintained.
The Eden holds special memories for Smith because “it marked the rebirth of a nation”.
For Dravid, it may mark the birth of a new mission on Friday.
India (from): Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Irfan Pathan, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rahul Dravid, Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Murali Kartik, Harbhajan Singh, Rudra Pratap Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, S. Sreesanth, Jai Prakash Yadav.
South Africa (from): Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Justin Ontong, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince, Justin Kemp, Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock, Johan Botha, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Andrew Hall, Albie Morkel, Robin Peterson, Charl Langeveldt.
Umpires: Daryl Harper, A.V. Jayaprakash. TV: I. Shivram.
Match Referee: Jeff Crowe.
Match from: 2.30 pm-6 pm; 6.45 pm till end.