Did you hear what they said? They are going to throw stuff at us at the grounds… so you… Mahendra Singh Dhoni could hardly even complete the line before bursting out in laughter. Those around him were in splits as well. From logistics manager MA Satish,media manager RN Baba to the person Dhonis jibe had been directed at - the Indian teams colossal security officer donning a red t-shirt. Even coach Duncan Fletcher couldnt help but smile.
Dhoni was just being,well,Dhoni. Only minutes earlier he had provided another example of his unique prowess at diffusing a tense situation. Its an aspect of his personality that hes renowned for on the field. And like he showed on Monday,even off it.
Earlier in the day,when Dhoni & Co had sauntered through the teeming immigration deck at the OR Tambo International and taken the bus to the plush Sandton Sun Hotel in central Johannesburg,its unlikely that they would have felt like they were walking into a hostile environment. But the Indian skipper was to find out that that his team should expect a bellicose welcome,not just from the opposition but even from their fans at least,according to the South African media contingent present to welcome the Dhoni in their shores for the controversy-ridden tour.
Do you expect any backlash from the public? What would you do if someone threw something onto the field? was the question to Dhoni at the press conference. Well,well pick it up and give it back. Thats what we can do. We have the big guy,our security guy (pointing to the man in the red t-shirt) to handle those situations, he said. There was laughter all around.
Not long ago,in fact only the second question of the session had been about whether the pre-tour bickering between the BCCI and Cricket South Africa would have an effect on the usual bonhomie between the two teams.
We can arrange a match for the administrators and let them have a go. We were busy playing cricket. We had nothing to do with it. As you rightly said,the relationship between the players of the two teams has been really good, he said.
The mood had been set for the session. The local contingent kept on probing Dhoni over the contentious build-up to the tour,and the Indian skipper handled them with his sharp wit and Zen-like disposition.
Over the last few days,the Indian players have come under the hammer for not speaking out against the truncated schedule thats resulted from the ego-tussle between the two boards. But Dhoni hasnt prepared to change his diplomatic stand here.
I dont pay that much attention to how many games we are playing because we have quite a busy schedule. We need to respect the schedule we have. What is in our hand is two Test matches, he said,in response to whether he would have preferred a third Test.
In his element
Dhoni was in his element again when queried about the toughest aspect he had to adjust with in terms of the constant touring that his team has to deal with.
I think,being asked the same questions, he said,breaking into a smile. It doesnt really change much. If you look back to the last time we were here,the questions were much the same and repetitive,apart from the latest ones about the administrators.
There was some cricket discussed,too,during the 10-minute forum. Fletcher did admit that the inclusion of a number of players from the present squad for the A tour to South Africa earlier this year could prove crucial.
It was quite valuable. Obviously the wickets werent prepared as they would be in the summer. They got a feel of how the opposition works in South Africa. So,psychologically,its quite an advantage,rather than coming out here cold, he said.
And even Dhoni felt that playing the ODI series to start with could help his team maintain momentum going into the crucial Tests between the top two sides in world cricket.
It takes that bit of hesitancy,if there is any,out of the game. It lets you open up,get used to the bounce on the wickets and make you positive, he said.
winning them softly
Not for the first time,Dhoni had won over an anxious foreign media contingent. His real challenge though will lie in overcoming the South African wrath on the field,and trying to diffuse potentially adverse situations on the field. And Dhoni & Co wasted no time in getting onto the bus and rushing to the Wanderers to get their acclimatization under way,despite the grey,surly clouds overhead. After a lot of deliberation and antagonistic chiding on both sides,it was time for some cricket.