At Bullring,silence before the charge: Little hype in Jo’burg leading up to start of India’s tour

There is hardly a sign in drowsy Johannesburg of the imminent high-profile clash.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Johannesburg | Published: December 2, 2013 2:52:32 am

The Bullring seems rather sedate on Sunday. The colossal stands with multiple tiers that rest intimidatingly over each other give the Wanderers its distinctive moniker. The cauldron setting is known to have overawed many a first-time visitor. But today,the Wanderers itself looks to be in siesta mood,and far from intimidating.

The stubborn summer sun that lords over the oval patch of green located along Corlette Drive shimmers off the empty glass panes of the corporate boxes. And so too off the advertising hoardings that carry names,which have been representative of South African cricket for close to two decades. But admittedly you do feel like a drop in the ocean as you gaze at the vast emptiness around you,at the white,blue and green seats and the sloping grass-banks.

Edward Nets,though,hardly seems to care as he goes about his business unbeknownst near the centre square. He rides his mower up and down the practice wicket,getting off his perch intermittingly,to collect the trimmed grass and deposit it on the sidelines. Sunday is an off-day for most of the Wanderers ground-staff,including their captain Chris Scott. But not for the veteran of 40 years who’s manned the pitches and the outfield here since 1974.

The match wicket lays unguarded. It’s mantis green in colour. As you edge closer to it,Nets lets out a throaty snigger. You turn around to see him sporting a wicked smile — his gums showing more than what’s left of a crooked set of teeth.

“The ball will rrrrise till herrrre,” he exclaims,with finger pointing at his head. “How will you guys do without your Tendulkarrrr?” before letting out a shrill whistle to catch the attention of one of his two colleagues working the off-day.

Nets holds his breath on whether the mantis green shall undergo a change of shade in four days’ time when Mahendra Singh Dhoni & Co commence their shortened South African sojourn here in the ODI series opener. Or when they return here later in December for the first of two Tests,a battle royale pitting the best two sides in the world — though the two boards might have impeded on the intensity.

But there is hardly a sign in drowsy Johannesburg of the imminent high-profile clash. And it’s not until you cross the swanky Melrose Arch and Illovo Boulevard and go further up Corlette Drive that you spot the first signs of Team India’s impending arrival. Even Nets is surprised by the calm,though he does predict a storm when Dale Steyn is in full flight.

Little hype

Nothing over the top. Just a bunch of medium-sized hoardings along the side of the road—less than 500 meters from the Stadium—announcing the dates of the ODI and the Test scheduled for Johannesburg. They are though sandwiched between louder and brighter signboards promoting a brand-new crèche in the area.

Hype or no hype,the next month will be a crucial chapter for Dhoni’s men. One during which they will have to dispel myths of being bullies at home and patsies on the road. The cricketing world has watched on slightly enviously as the likes of Rohit Sharma,Shikhar Dhawan,Virat Kohli and Dhoni himself have taken ODI batting to new heights. But whether they can repeat those heroics in the bouncy terrains of South Africa will be their real test.

Then comes the real challenge. The start of the post-Tendulkar era. A chance for India to right the wrongs of the last 24 months,where their overseas Test record reads 0-8. They will have to do it without their long-serving guardian in whites. Tendulkar nostalgia is still fresh in South Africa. While most are keen to know more about the emotional scenes at the Wankhede Stadium last month,the national sports channel here plays re-runs of Tendulkar’s final moments as a cricketer,including his speech.

There were no real indications of the magnitude of the tour even en route to Centurion a day earlier. Zoom northward on Route N1,with the Highveld air thick,you reach SuperSport Park where the hosts are making heavy weather of a paltry run-chase. Like in Johannesburg,the route is littered with contrasting sights—of gigantic malls rising from a series of quaint country houses,the water in their private pools glistening under the hot sun.

Under the pump

SuperSport Park carries a party atmosphere with braais (barbecues) lit up and the dop (pronounced dawp,alcohol) flowing. The hosts get there in the end but not before Pakistan,who had already won the ODI series,have given their team management plenty of furrowed brows. Misbah-ul-Haq is the cynosure of the raucous Pakistani fans in attendance. A captain who’s defied odds and lifted his team’s profile in recent months.

There are few who have or can question Dhoni about his handling of the reins. But after the remarkable drubbing handed out in England and Australia,South Africa has emerged more as a chance for redemption rather than a final frontier.

And Dhoni & Co will be desperate to usher in Indian cricket’s next epoch in style during their first tour without Tendulkar. It’ll all begin here at the Wanderers,which unlike on Sunday,will be brimming with fans with the Indian flag making a prominent appearance. And come Thursday,it will once again resemble a Bullring.

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