Around here, it’s either raining or just about to rain. The hawkers in the city square load their carts with umbrellas and commuters on the tram carry woollens in their hand bag. During the first three days of the Test, occasionally it would get sunny, but rest of the time the dark clouds would oversee the action at Old Trafford.
For the past 48 hours, what would’ve been Days Four and Five of the Test, the skies have been leaking.
Around 1 pm, the scheduled lunch of the final day, the sun finally surfaced. Had it not been for India’s two batting collapses, this could have reached that exciting time of a rainy day when the covers would come off and the crowds would cheer the groundsmen.
But an innings defeat within three days has left Old Trafford deserted on Tuesday. The gate keeper has been instructed to restrict entry since the local team, Lancashire, was preparing for a one-dayer. They conducted a closed net session. On our insistence, the young boy in the flourescent green guard’s vest reveals that there are no international cricketers in the stadium. The overwhelming winners, England, or the embarrassing losers, India, aren’t using the early finish for an extra net session before the final Test at the Oval.
The Indian cricketers are very much still in town. They are sticking to their schedule and are expected to hit the road to London later on Monday.
Football on agenda
Not everyone, however, will be on the team bus to London — where the 5th Test starts on Thursday. There is talk that a few might stay back as Manchester United take on Valencia in a pre-season friendly at the other Old Trafford.
The ‘Red Devils’ among the ‘Boys in Blue’ are a big hit — they are keen on watching their team live. The first nets session since conceding the series lead, hence, will be conducted only on Wednesday. That gives MS Dhoni and his men a three-day ‘no cricket’ break, enough time to help them regroup and take their minds off the defeat.
The outing to watch Man Utd under their new coach isn’t yet confirmed, but tongues are expected to wag in case the cricketers do turn up at the game on Tuesday. Already, the fans have shown that they aren’t in the mood for the famous Dhoni one-liners.
On Saturday after the loss, when asked about the positives he could take from the second consecutive loss, the captain stabbed at humour and said: “Well, we will get two extra days of rest.” Taken out of context, Dhoni was blamed to take the defeat lightly.
These are tense days for the sensitive Team India fan. He would have preferred a rigorous training session for the team. Not a break from the Test series with a Manchester United game to relax their minds. The break in no way guarantees a better performance in the next Test (it could very well be counterproductive) but at least it makes for a good viewing.
Ishant in the mix
The only refreshing sight for the Indians has been Ishant Sharma’s attempt at returning to full fitness before the final Test. He marked his run-up, commencing the baby steps to recovering his spot in the eleven. Ishant missed the third Test at the Rose Bowl because of a sore ankle, a big blow for India following his match-winning seven-wicket haul in the second innings at Lord’s that helped India take a 1-0 lead. It is learnt that tests have shown that there is no damage to the leg and basic rest should help him get back to full strength.
Ishant’s return might coincide with Stuart Broad’s exit. Though Broad is keen to play with a face-mask — one that would protect his battered nose — doubts firmly remain. The hosts have retained the same team for the final Test since they have the cushion of an international quality back-up pacer in the dressing room in Steve Finn.
Finn, they say, is hitting the right spots with intensity. That’s a cause of worry for the team that has got into the habit of folding up every other day. Unreliable batting, inexperienced bowling, insipid fielding. Dhoni’s troubles have only multiplied with each passing Test. Maybe, a day away from cricket to watch some football might just work well for his side.