The after effects of Hudhud, which lashed coastal Andhra Pradesh on Sunday, were still being felt three days later and thousands of kilometres away in Himachal Pradesh. Heaps and heaps of pregnant cotton clouds, thrown away by the almighty centrifugal force of the cyclone system, could be seen gravitating towards the mountains beyond Dharamsala on Wednesday. As they rushed to unburden themselves, they exhibited a fatalistic streak, an appetite for self-destruction not unlike what the West Indian batsmen showed on Saturday evening as they made a beeline to the pavilion during the second One-Day International at Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi. Chasing 264, the visitors were 136/1 in the 29th over before proceeding to lose the last nine wickets for just 79 runs, the last eight for 45 – and six of those for just 18 runs.
A win in the second ODI on Thursday would have given them a 2-0 series. In the event of the cyclone, which would wash way — besides much else — the third match, it would have meant even the West Indies couldn’t have lost the series from there.
As it turned out, it’s evenly poised at 1-1 with two more games to go. This adds much significance to the Dharamsala ODI in the immediate context of the series. But, from India’s point of view, it also casts a shadow on the bigger picture: of trying out the youngsters in the squad, with an eye on the World Cup.
Let’s analyse this point. On Tuesday, the selectors roped in the Gujarat and Kings XI Punjab left-arm spinner Axar Patel in the squad that already has the untested Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav. With the next match now becoming somewhat crucial, it will require some bold decision making on captain MS Dhoni’s part to consider even one of them — forget the both of them — for Friday’s fixture. And bold decision making is one thing you can’t accuse Dhoni of — especially when a safer option is at hand.
The safer option
The safer option in this case is Amit Mishra. Mishra bounced back from a nightmarish outing in Kochi with a match-turning spell in Delhi. As he has found his feet only just, it’s unlikely that the leg-spinner will be made to sit out anytime soon in the series.
Then there are playing conditions. In Dharamsala, the pitch and the weather traditionally suits pace bowling. In only ODI that has been played here, between India and England on January 28, 2013, Tim Bresnan and Steve Finn were almost unplayable as the visiting team won by seven wickets. Then, in the Ranji Trophy last year, it was on this very ground that the Himachal Pradesh medium-pacer Rishi Dhawan took five-wicket hauls after five-wicket hauls on his way to top the wickets chart with 49 scalps. This place is to Himachal Pradesh what Lahli is to Haryana in the cold of winter. In fact, after the rain in the nearby McLeodganj on Tuesday and Wednesday, the temperature in this town has dropped perceptibly. The winter, here at the foot of the mighty Dhauladhars, has come.
Given such conditions, therefore, the only benchwarmer Dhoni might realistically to be inclined to play at Dharamsala could be Ishant Sharma. Any spinner hoping to nick a few wickets and make his mark here will have his task cut out.
Day-nighter robs the view
There will be those who will vouch for Newlands, Cape Town, with the iconic Table Mountain giving it a stunning backdrop. There will also be equally vociferous fans of Queenstown Events Centre, which has the Remarkables mountain range on one side and the improbably blue Lake Wakatipu on the other. But any contestant for the most scenic international cricket venue will have to face an almighty challenge from the HPCA cricket stadium in Dharamsala. Some would say it’s a battle the contestants will never win.
At most other places in India and the world, cricket and cricketers are the biggest crowd pullers. Over here, they come to watch both the game and the Dhauladhars. Photojournalists prefer the wide-angle lens as they look to capture the cricket and the panoramic view in the same frame. International cricketers ritually take selfies with the snow-clad Himalayas in the background.
On Wednesday, with a veil of cloud hanging over those majestic peaks, Dharamsala looked half the venue that it is. Mind you, it was still beautiful. But it was beautiful in the way the Pebble Beach Golf Course would be minus the signature hole No.7, with the wild Pacific threatening to subsume the golfer as he lines up the putt.On Friday, then, as the two team face off in only the second ever ODI here, half the drama will be played out without this scenery in the background. Incredible as it may seem, it’s a day-night game, at one venue where you least need the floodlights.
Talk of the BCCI and aesthetic sense.