It’s 10 in the morning, the heat is unforgiving. Temperatures in the high 30s and air around is energy-sapping. At the Air Force Sports Complex in Palam, Kyle Abbot is perhaps getting a taste of India’s hostile conditions. Barely half-an-hour into the nets session, the tall fast-bowler is drenched in sweat. He isn’t complaining, he is too busy.
As the 28-year-old walks back to his run-up, he stops momentarily and looks back. The airport is next doors and this is a busy landing hour. Palam’s modest ground isn’t the best place to train.
In an ideal world, they shouldn’t be even here, on the outskirts of the capital. Delhi cricket had bared its factional political soul to the visitors and with the Test venue, Feroz Shah Kotla, unready for action due to messy local cricket association, they were forced to play under the flying aircraft. South Africans weren’t making a fuss, though – not about this venue, not about the fact they have just one warm-up game, not about the its puzzling afternoon start, in fact nothing seems to fluster them. As they touched down in Delhi on Sunday evening to embark on a long 72-day India sojourn, equipment of some of the players went missing. As it turned out, they were still languishing in Dubai airport, and would arrive only late in the evening. Undeterred, the visitors went about with their nets session with gusto, getting acclimatized to the hostile conditions on offer.
At the far end of the ground, Services batsman Yashpal Singh is also in the middle of an intense nets session. Being relegated to the sideline on his home turf does not bother him. “The main area had to be obviously vacated for the South Africans…it’s no big deal,” he says. South-Africa, though, is not what Singh is concerned with. He is in fact more intent in chalking out a plan to counter Jharkhand in the opening Ranji Trophy match, which begins here in a couple of days.
Quiz Singh on the conditions, and he is quick to add: “Expect a run fest. The pitch here is a belter and anything in the region of 180-200 would be a par score,” he said. The conversation is interrupted with loud cheers, greeting the arrival of the India A side. Rookie leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, one of the star attractions in this second-string Indian team, makes his presence felt as he quickly darts across to greet his Royal Challengers Bangalore team-mate AB de Villiers, who is taking a break after his brief stint at the nets.
As always, 31-year-old de Villiers’ performance will be the key to his team’s chances in all three formats in India. In the past, he has held fort and bailed his team out of difficult conditions at home and abroad. And, if his stint at the nets on Monday morning is anything to go by, then MS Dhoni’s side would be extremely worried.
Over the past decade, South Africa have performed admirably on foreign terrains. Such has been their dominance overseas that they have lost only one away series – against Sri Lanka way back in 2006. Since then, they have constantly undone oppositions, home and abroad. For some strange reason though, they have not managed to replicate the aura of world-beaters like Steve Waugh’s Australian side of the late 1990s. This perception is due to their intense professional and non-fussy nature as travellers.
Ahead of their opening T20 fixture in Dharamsala, the South Africans were scheduled to play a warm-up match against India A at Ferozeshah Kotla. With the DDCA (Delhi District Cricket Association) embroiled in deep-rooted factionalism, Kotla gave warm-up fixture the miss, and the Air Force Sports Complex, situated in far away Palam was inducted as the last-minute choice. The visitors are not complaining though. They are just happy to be out in the middle, soaking in the warm September sun, and ready for action.
SA rope in Hussey
Cricket South Africa decided to renew its relationship with Mike Hussey ahead of the World T20 to be held in India next year. The Australian batsman, who was part of the Proteas’ support staff at the World Cup, will work with the middle and lower middle order and also on the mental aspect of the game, most notably in chasing down totals. The announcement was made by CSA on its twitter handle: “Great to have Mike Hussey joining the Proteas for the T20 series #INDVSA #ProteaFire.” Hussey is already in India and will oversee developments during the three-match T20 series. Talking about Hussey’s appointment, South Africa’s T20 skipper Faf du Plessis said: “I have played a lot of cricket with Michael in Chennai as well. He is a good guy to have as he has played a lot of cricket. For young batters, he is the best guy to learn from is ‘Mr Cricket’.”
India reach early
The Indian team, led by skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, arrived in Dharamsala in the evening, four days before the tour-opener of the Mahatma Gandhi–Mandela series against South Africa. The team will undergo a rigorous physical fitness training to prepare for the first Twenty20 International, scheduled for October 2. It was Ravi Shastri’s idea to arrive here early so that the players can work on endurance at high altitude venue.