BY AROUND noon on Saturday, there was a mini-commotion outside Wankhede Stadium. “Ekach window ugde aahe, evdi lok aahe (Only one window is open and there are so many of us here),” screamed one voice as a hundred more joined in unison. (Full Coverage|| Fixtures||Photos)
The tickets were relatively cheap, compared to the often exorbitant ones on sale during the IPL, ranging between Rs 100-500. The queue was long. It stretched from the gates of Wankhede Stadium — where it seemed like a creek had opened up into a sea of people — snaking its way past the MHA hockey stadium and up the road. You could easily spot it from the entrance of Churchgate railway station.
There was one forming slowly in the other direction too, heading towards Marine Drive. D Road, on which resides Wankhede Stadium, had already been barricaded. Soon a middle-aged man asked almost to the shock of everyone present, what the fuss was all about. When informed that India were playing a T20 match against South Africa, he quietly joined the queue. That it was a warm-up match didn’t matter to him, or for any of the other hundred-odd cramming the space behind the make-shift bamboo barriers. For them, it just meant a live sighting of the Indian team and that too in a T20 contest. And it wasn’t even IPL season yet.
By 6 pm, while England and New Zealand were busy testing each other out in what has now become a customary post-match super-over in these warm-up matches, there was an additional buzz in the melee outside Wankhede. News had spread that the Indian team-bus had departed from the hotel — though like with most of these rumours it wasn’t the most accurate — as the crowd which had now climbed to the thousands had to wait for a further half-hour to wave at MS Dhoni & Co.
That the Wankhede faithful were keen on seeing India in their new World T20 kit is understandable. The only other chance they will have of seeing Dhoni & Co live would be if the hosts make the semi-final, and even then it will depend on whether India finish first or second in their group and also if Pakistan are in the fray. The Wankhede, which was barely populated during the opening game, was full when the South African openers walked out to bat.
For the first hour, the match resembled the last encounter between the two teams at the same venue, when the South African batsmen took the Indian bowlers apart, and the white-ball kept flying into the Mumbai night sky. Like last time it was Quinton de Kock who started the carnage, cutting loose with an array of blazing shots, a swat, a pull, and a breath-taking pick-up shot over the mid-wicket boundary for six. With AB de Villiers missing the game, it was time for JP Duminy who took charge of the assault, scoring 67 including a swipe over wide long-on that almost reached the third tier. Around an hour later, Dhoni would smash a six that would actually reach the third tier of the Garware Pavilion.
The Indian bowlers each had their moments. Jasprit Bumrah produced a perfect out-swinger to remove Hashim Amla. Mohammed Shami continued to feel his way back — running in with shorter strides post injury — and produced a couple of decent yorkers. The bowler of the day for India was Hardik Pandya.
Never before has a support seamer for India shown the ability to produce genuine bouncers at pace and take wickets with them. Pandya picked up three wickets with the short ball against South Africa.
Dale Steyn as usual did his bit of troubling Rohit Sharma at Wankhede under the lights with the new-ball — which has become an annual ritual in the IPL when the two come face to face — before Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina came together. The two kept finding the boundary, with Raina hitting a South African seamer over mid-wicket for six, which always is a sign of him being in good touch.
The loudest roar of the evening though was reserved for the arrival of Dhoni to the crease, as the Indian captain and Yuvraj Singh replaced Dhawan and Raina.
He did not disappoint, hitting a terrific six, a swivel hook off Steyn as the ball rose towards his arm-pit, showing off the quickness and the power in his arms.
The finish was set perfectly for Dhoni to turn it into a Saturday night to remember with 14 required in the last over. With boundaries from Dhoni and Yuvraj, the equation came down to six off the last ball with Dhoni on strike. Chris Morris bowled a wide, but then found the perfect length to prevent Dhoni from finding the fence.
But by then, Mumbai had got a good enough taster of T20 season.
Brief scores: South Africa 196/9 (Quinton de Kock 56*, JP Duminy 67; Mohammed Shami 2/37, Jasprit Bumrah 51/2, Hardik Pandya 3/36) beat India 192/3 (Shikhar Dhawan 73*, Suresh Raina 41*, MS Dhoni 30*) by 4 runs.