From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.40 :: Oct. 03, 2009

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CRICKET / SOUTH AFRICA DIARY

Never short of ideas

Fielding legend Jonty Rhodes believes all the Power Plays, including the one chosen by the batting side, should be taken before the 31st over to make the middle-over phase more interesting. By S. Dinakar.

R. RAGU

This edition of the ICC-Champions Trophy will be a short and snappy competition with the eight best teams in the world taking part.

But then, the turmoil in West Indies cricket has taken some sheen off the tournament. A second string side from the Caribbean does not quite fit into the concept of the Champions Trophy being a stage for the elite cricketing nations of the world.

There are huge hoardings in Sandton — the commercial hub of Johannesburg — announcing the arrival of the star-studded tournament.

Will the Champions Trophy be a success?

Jo’burg is a leafy city of boulevards, ups and downs, winding roads and sharp bends. The city is at an altitude of 1694 metres above sea level. Even as you drive around the city at night, you can see shimmering lights in the lower lying areas. This makes for spectacular viewing.

But nothing is brighter than the statue of Nelson Mandela in a square named after the freedom-fighter in a state-of-the-art shopping mall. The living legend — a symbol of sacrifice, peace and harmony — continues to be enormously popular. For millions, he remains a great source of inspiration.

The square itself, lined with bistros and restaurants, is buzzing with activity. There are children frolicking near the fountain. And countless visitors have their photographs taken next to the giant Mandela statue.

On the other side is a billboard indicating the number of days left for the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa. On this day, it reads 263. Yes, the countdown for the world’s biggest single sport event has begun.

South Africa awaits football’s premier event. Much of the infrastructure is ready and the security — a major concern — is being tightened.

The next day, Monday, it is off to the Centurion, which is a 90-minute drive — on busy days — from Johannesburg.

Centurion boasts of a spectacular cricketing ground in SuperSport Park, a rather open venue with hills in the background. From the Press box we can see vehicles zipping along the motorway.

Ahead of the tournament opener, the South Africans and the Sri Lankans practice with verve. The drummers and the dancers in traditional African costumes perform rehearsals.

The tournament comes at a time of considerable debate over the future of the 50-over format. South African skipper Graeme Smith says this would be testing time for the 50-overs-a-side in its present form. His Sri Lankan counterpart Kumar Sangakkara feels all the three forms should exist in harmony.

Much to the disappointment of the large home crowd, South Africa goes down to Sri Lanka. The match that gets underway under bright sunshine concludes, in a rather bizarre fashion, amidst thunderstorm and rain.

In the early South African summer, the weather is warm during the day but things can get very nippy at night. Fielding legend Jonty Rhodes, watching the game at the venue, believes all the Power Plays, including the one chosen by the batting side, should be taken before the 31st over to make the middle-over phase more interesting. The man who innovated during his time is never short of ideas.

The next day, Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh, are spotted heading to an Indian restaurant at Sandton. They present a happy picture.

Then, we get the news of Yuvraj breaking a finger during practice and being ruled out of the tournament. Fortunes can change quickly in cricket as in life.



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