Calcutta, Nov. 24: Much as the connoisseur would like Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis to make the biggest splash off the Hooghly, the Sourav Ganguly factor will loom big at the Eden tomorrow.
With the deposed Team India captain making a point or two in Pune, the turnout (over 75,000 tickets were sold by this evening) won’t be seeing him in any form.
Coach Greg Chappell, too, won’t be visible to everybody ' except those with the best view (Block B) of the dressing room. Even his will be a larger-than-life presence.
For many, the India-South Africa ODI will be more than just a crucial match. In any case, with the series 1-1, a potential cracker is on the cards.
Chappell didn’t speak in the lead-up, but captain Rahul Dravid did. Questions about Sourav were handled in a thoroughly business-like manner. Not one extra word.
Dravid, however, tore into the West Bengal Motion Picture Artists’ Forum (and some politicians) for asking cricket-lovers to boycott the ODI in protest against Sourav’s exclusion from the shorter version.
“I don’t think there’s any need (for a message). The actors’ guild and politicians don’t represent Bengal. They’re a small minority and I know there are millions who care for the game ' because this is from where I receive the most fan mail. I know the real sentiment of the people of Bengal.”
Somewhat out of character for Dravid, who shuns controversies, but he obviously felt strongly about the call.
The pressure on Dravid (and Chappell) is that much more here. Yet, knowing the way he prepares for challenges, Dravid must have primed himself to perfection.
Graeme Smith and Co. have to watch out.
The Eden is where South Africa played their comeback match (just over 14 years ago), but the Proteas have grown to not get affected by sentiment.
In fact, the last India-South Africa ODI here ' 12 years ago ' saw one of the most dramatic finishes in limited overs cricket. With Sachin bowling the last over ' he literally snatched the ball from a diffident captain, Mohammed Azharuddin ' India pulled off a two-run victory. That Hero Cup semi-final made Sachin a super hero.
The morrow will mark the record-rewriting 357th match for him. Chennai’s loss, owing to Tuesday’s washout, has been Calcutta’s gain. “Perhaps destiny willed it this way,” Sachin said, after a late evening trip to the Kali temple.
He’s used to featuring in records, but this one is big 'coming days into his 17th year in the sport’s elite division.
Meanwhile, neither Dravid nor Smith announced their 12s, thanks to guesswork over the dew that’s expected.
Last November, Team India slipped badly to lose the Platinum Jubilee ODI to Pakistan by six wickets.
That result, one assumes, is sitting heavy on both India and South Africa. Conventional wisdom suggests it’s easier to bowl first when the threat of dew is all too real.
While Sachin or Kallis has the ability to quickly monopolise attention, many have been waiting for Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The newest pin-up hero has injected such dynamism that opponents have been left huffing and puffing.
This morning, though, he was busy with computer games on his laptop when The Telegraph caught up with him at the hotel. “I’ve been knocking off terrorists (in Delta Force)' Such games help me relax,” he said grinning.
Wonder which South African is going to be targeted some hours from now.